“I always dreamed of going to an HBCU …”
— Beyoncé Knowles
I lost myself scrolling through a seemingly endless timeline of celebratory tweets and Instagram posts from the Black community. All were praising Beyoncé’ for bringing the HBCU experience to the forefront in her now legendary 2018 Coachella performance. But a mere 24 hours after Beyoncé broke the internet via Netflix with her intimate documentary, Homecoming, the Black community was hit with the antithesis of the documentary’s core message.
On the morning of Thursday, April 19 I sat upright on my living room couch and watched in horror as Fox 5 DC aired its latest news segment. Fox News anchor, Tisha Lewis, walked her audience through the latest on gentrification and its deleterious effects on a private DC community in the heart of the district.
The community in question? Howard University.
I watched in silence as snippets of b-roll footage flashed across my screen, shot on a campus that I’ve called home for almost two years. The story was one that I was quite familiar with.
Gentrification has been plaguing major cities such as New York, Baltimore, Houston and Los Angeles for decades, robbing each of its innate flavor. And in its wake, astronomical inflation adjustments that leave minority residents displaced, or at the very least, struggling significantly to keep up with the daunting cost of living. Between 2000 to 2013 alone, almost 111,000 African Americans were displaced from their homes due to an inability to keep up with the increasingly high cost of living.
Since then, people of color have continued to lose their share of their communities; the share of non-Hispanic whites in gentrified neighborhoods is now increasing at an average of 4.3%.
As a Brooklyn native, I myself have seen the quiet storm that is gentrification at work. It starts with the advent of a Starbucks, continues with the emergence of new luxury apartment buildings and ends with the exodus of Black residents as the white middle class sweeps in to take their place.
And while I’ve seen what gentrification can do — how it can strip a community of its vitality and culture — it never crossed my mind that HBCUs were in danger of joining the ranks of its victims.
However, my naiveté was put to bed the moment a gentleman by the name of Sean Grubbs-Robishaw appeared on my screen. Those that have been following this story may or may not be familiar with the name, but are most certainly familiar with the words of ignorance that accompany it.
“They’re in part of D.C. so they have to work within D.C. If they don’t want to be within D.C., then move the campus.”
— Sean Grubbs-Robishaw
I’m more than familiar with the unshakable gall, high sense of superiority and false sense of entitlement that many non-POC residents seem to share once they infiltrate a new space. When it comes to HBCUs however, consider the door now and forever closed.
We, as a people, have been forced to “move” for centuries. Our willingness to do so, however, has ended. Moreover, we will not submit to the needs of a people who have historically robbed us of our identities, as well as our culture, with no remorse.
HBCUs will not be next on the chopping block for modern day colonizers to use at their leisure. Our walkways are not your new jogging trails, our Greek plots are not porta potties for your pets and the significance of our illustrious institutions is most certainly not up for discussion nor debate.
Having had the opportunity to attend not one, but two of the most distinguished universities within the HBCU community (Hampton University and Howard University), I find this issue to be a very serious matter.
To the students, faculty and alumni of HBCUs across the country, please understand that this isn't just a Howard problem. The issues of modern-day colonization plaguing the Howard community represents an overarching problem for us all.
Our history is being threatened by members of a race that have spent centuries finding new ways to steal from us. It is up to each and every one of us to protect our institutions. I implore you to be more vocal about the love you have for your HBCU. Find out how you can help preserve the legacy of your respective historically Black institution; start petitions, raise money, educate your non-POC or non-Black POC friends/partners/colleagues about why HBCU’s must be protected at all costs!
If we allow individuals like Sean Robishaw-Grubbs to dictate what we should and should not accept on land that we built from the ground up, we will have nothing left.
So, no! HBCU’s cannot and will not move! We will not move! Not anymore!