“With grades like these, you won’t even get into community college.”
When Andres Martin recalls his final days of high school, they aren’t with much fondness. His guidance counselor told him his options were limited leading up to graduation. Fortunately, through the support of his family, he pivoted and looked into schools with programs that aimed to not only provide a traditional curriculum but also offer college success skills for incoming freshmen.
The Connecticut-native didn’t have much insight into Historically Black Colleges and Universities as a teen.
“I remember my mother and my aunt trying to encourage me to keep my head up and be positive,” he said. “This led to me to move in with my aunt in Dallas and attend an HBCU tour to view schools like Texas Southern, Prairie View A&M, & Grambling State. I ended up learning about a lot of strong legacies and impactful leaders who graduated from HBCUs and envisioned myself being on one of these campuses.”
Shortly after the tour, Martin applied and was accepted into Grambling State University, which ultimately changed the now 31-year-old’s life. Also a graduate of Howard University, Martin said he often volunteered on-campus as a way to reach back and expose aspiring college students to the value of the HBCU experience they would have otherwise had no idea about. In fact, despite some preconceived notions, these institutions have been making an impact in the lives of their students that extend beyond the classroom.
UNCF reports a “whopping 25% of African American graduates with STEM degrees come from HBCUs. Eight HBCUs were among the top 20 institutions to award the most science and engineering bachelor’s degrees to black graduates from 2008-2012. An HBCU graduate can expect to earn an additional $927,000 in their lifetime, which is 56% more than they could expect to earn without their HBCU degrees or certificates. From start to finish, an HBCU education is a setup for success.”
Martin wanted to give back to HBCUs and encourage enrollment, so he created HBCU Night in 2019, a non-profit organization that creates awareness for Historically Black Colleges & Universities through large-scale events like college and resource fairs. These programs, Martin says, are critical to addressing access gaps Black students have when applying for college.
Seventy-two percent of Black students take on debt as they seek their degrees, as opposed to 56% of their white peers. And while college enrollment in this group has increased significantly over the years, African American enrollment at the nation’s most elite colleges has remained mostly the same.
Martin has been making significant strides to change that. To date, HBCU Night has facilitated 1,611 scholarship offers amounting to more than $52 million. He recently sat down with Essence to discuss the incredible impact of HBCUs and why his organization is transforming the college fair experience.
Where did the idea for HBCU Night derive from?
The idea was inspired by a series of events. My undergrad experience at Grambling was one of the reasons! I just remember there always being something exciting going down on campus and balancing that with academics. Grambling introduced an experience so impactful that produced growth, excellence, and legacies, that I wanted to advocate for graduates who were motivated like myself. The other source of motivation to start the multifaceted night was the lack of exposure HBCUs had in the corporate setting (in 2015). I felt like HBCUs needed more seats at these tables AND we also needed our own tables. I saw there was a need for more representation from both external Black entrepreneur partnerships, to internal representation in offices. I wanted to encompass this movement with improved best practices and event celebrations. I remember walking in Barclays Center (in 2015) and visualizing college fairs, on-spot acceptances, scholarship offers, career fairs, panel discussions, fundraiser events for HBCU Alumni, Greek Step Shows, & more. I knew that with the right amount of representation we would be able to showcase our excellence, network, and more importantly, impact.
How has attending an HBCU shaped you as a person? Professional?
Both of my HBCUs gave me a better sense of community, acceptance and added a stronger meaning to the word family. College teaches everyone about independence but my HBCU colleagues and professors also had my back during some tough moments. Also, being on a campus and learning more about diversity within the African diaspora from my own people was also something I wouldn’t trade for the world. Despite the differences, I loved the commonalities that my predominantly Black campuses shared, and that was preparing me to navigate through the world as Black & Brown people and trying to evolve as Black & Brown scholars.
Both HBCUs I attended (Grambling & Howard) also helped me with professional development. They helped me understand the importance of time management, being punctual, being consistent, and both instilled a level of confidence and creativity in myself that I didn’t realize I had. Also, some of my business approaches with my entrepreneurial endeavors have stemmed from lessons on business intelligence and best practices.
Howard’s School of Business breeds next-level business professionals. I remember in one of my presentations going in with supportive colleagues and staff cheering me on in a classroom that felt like a family-oriented environment. I presented what I thought was a solid business plan, then once the critique session from my professor and judges started (yes a panel of more professors as “judges”), I realized I was in a ‘tough’ Shark Tank episode. I say this to say, although I had a great presentation put together, my professors wanted me to maximize my potential with great open-ended questions and recommendations for modifying my business approach. After this presentation, I modified my 501(c)(3) and ended up going on to impact on a larger scale (over ten-fold) and became an Award-winning nonprofit.
What are some of the misconceptions you’re aiming to debunk about HBCUs?
Some of the misconceptions I’m working to debunk about HBCUs are that HBCUs are ONLY “party schools” and they “don’t prepare you for the real world.” There are prime examples in all fields and all industries of HBCU Grads who show up at their work settings as leaders and executives.
When I say leaders, I mean effective leaders. HBCUs carries a strong legacy and have a track record of producing graduates who contribute to the very society we’re trying to better ourselves in. We aim to continue our ministry of educating attendees/viewers and those uninformed, that HBCUs have produced over $14.8 billion dollars to the economy, annually, from over 80% of Black Judges, over 70% of Black Dentists, over 50% of Black Doctors, over 50% of Black Lawyers, over 40% of Black Engineers, and the list goes on. Another important statistic is, over 50% of Black Teachers are products of HBCUs as well. Simply put, representation matters, and these percentages are success stories that are all full circle.
With HBCU Night, we display some of our world’s top leaders in panel discussions, and many more are in our HBCU Alumni network. This should serve as an inspiration and help our communities send elevators back down. So, just because we have the best homecomings and campus life, does not mean we don’t handle business and help change the world for the better.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve experienced building the organization?
Since we were founded in 2019, we have faced challenges with securing grant/donation funding. Even as an Award-winning nonprofit, we have yet to receive any large financial funding for our programs and events. We have received donations, however, with the magnitude of impact we’re covering, we have not been able to secure the targeted funding amount we set to reach for programming.
Are you able to share some of the HBCU Night student success stories?
Yes. Our A DiGiTAL WORLD virtual college fair has hosted over 38k+ scholars in 2020 on our platform to HBCU recruiters and has helped facilitate over $52M+ in scholarships to our scholars in over 1,200+ cities, globally.
One of the HBCU Night scholars, Maxximone McGlothian, expressed, “Being exposed to the qualities of so many HBCUs made all the difference in my decision process.” Maxximone received 30 acceptances and was offered over $1.9M in scholarship offers and was selected 1/20 for the Cheatham-White Scholarship. She was even offered a free laptop from HBCU Night, Inc.
Another HBCU Night scholar, Richard Chandler, stated, “The A DiGiTAL WORLD experience confirmed my belief that I wanted to be a man of Morehouse. The recruiters and current students helped answer the many questions I had about my future.” Richard went on to receive 30 acceptances and was offered over $1.2M in scholarship offers. He went on to matriculate at Morehouse College.
For more information, please visit HBCUNight.org.