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Dr. Kenyatta Lovett: My HBCU Story

By: Dr. Kenyatta Lovett   |   February 2022

Guest author Dr. Kenyatta Lovett reflects on the impact of HBCUs on his professional mission and success, as well as the progress of other Black students.

As we celebrate Black history month, I am reminded of my choice to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) after graduating high school, which was influenced in part by spending so much time with my father, who was an HBCU professor. But equally as influential was the positive image of HBCUs in the media, channeled mainly through television shows like The Cosby Show and A Different World. And indeed, the experience changed my life for the better. So much so, that I chose an HBCU to earn two additional graduate degrees.

The stories for our students across Texas include different backgrounds and different influences. While one institution cannot address all the factors that are critical to ensuring an inclusive experience for all students, we are fortunate in Texas that our students, regardless of their background or circumstances, have choices that offer varied pathways to success.

It is with great appreciation that I commend Joshua from our TxCAN team on his recent blog post on Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). A key point I would like to reinforce from Joshua’s post centers on student success outcomes for students of color. As a team, we recently discussed a report regarding the improvement of college graduation rates, and noted the significant increase for black students and shift in all students' higher education choices.

Many of you have heard my concern for the current college-going rate across this state, as well as the current national trend. While some may believe that college is not for everyone, it is my hope that we all believe that the opportunity to attend college is for everyone and anyone. I write this post with an unfair advantage. My first home was in faculty housing on a college campus, and I spent my growing-up years hanging out in college classrooms at Tennessee State University. So, my awareness and appreciation of the opportunity of higher education looked much different than my peers.

This reality was not true for my mother and father, who also attended an HBCU. Their paths took more courage and risk than my path or the paths of my siblings. My professional mission has centered on honoring their struggle, as well as the struggles of HBCUs that carry forward the mission of higher education being the great equalizer, while also serving as a beacon of hope and innovation for the African American community.

I encourage you to read Joshua’s blog post to learn more about the great nine HBCUs in our state if you have not done so already. I also challenge you to have a conversation with a high school junior or senior student about fit, and inclusion, and which institutions in our state represent can accomodate their circumstances and which ones are not aligned with their values and purpose. I also hope you will appreciate the benefit of choice in our state, and how choices should be elevated to ensure more of our high school graduates enroll in college.

Finally, I ask you to reflect on the term “resilience”, which has been used to define those students that have the greatest barriers to success, and the institutions that operate on limited resources like our prized HBCUs in Texas. As one HBCU president stated to me, we should not elevate resilience so much, because prolonged resilience is often a sign of tolerating abuse.

Despite limited resources and inequitable investments, HBCUs across this nation, along with other institutions that have a specific mission to serve underrepresented and underserved populations, embody the true beauty of the mission of higher education. I am always reminded of a letter to a world-renowned professor at Iowa State University from an HBCU president that symbolizes the power of these great institutions and the courage to excel and rise above:

“I cannot offer you money, position or fame,” read this letter. “The first two you have. The last from the position you now occupy you will no doubt achieve. These things I now ask you to give up. I offer you in their place: work – hard work, the task of bringing people from degradation, poverty and waste to full manhood. Your department exists only on paper and your laboratory will have to be in your head.” - ‚ÄčA letter from Booker T. Washington to George Washington Carver, April 1896 

Author
Kenyatta Lovett currently serves as the Managing Director for Higher Education at Educate Texas. In this role, he will develop the portfolio of programs to support the Educate Texas strategic plan to significantly contribute to Texas’s 60x30TX goal. Dr. Lovett will also design strategies to connect degree and credential attainment to workforce outcomes.