Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We've Got to Show Some Sign

Both in personal response and on Facebook, I've gotten impressive reaction as to whether or not Paul Quinn College is worth saving.

Maybe it wasn't clear from the previous post, but I'm in the camp that believes it is.

The real question is just how many others believe so as well?

I think questions regarding the legitimacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are generally asked in accusatory fashion or from some with a total lack of understanding regarding what these institutions provide. James Ragland, a Dallas Morning News columnist who has also written on the plight of Paul Quinn is on the money when he shares why the college should be saved. "HBCU's traditionally have gotten by with limited resources and, much like PQ, they tend to educate a lot of first-generation college kids with limited financial means."

After going to a predominately white junior high and high school, I know first hand, not only the impression that it makes on an 18 year old, to have black professors, a black president of the college but to have the opportunity to go to a college where the majority of the students look like you. You learn, that not only are there leaders in every profession, who have virtually the same life experience as yours who survive and thrive; you learn that historically speaking, you are fulfilling the hopes, dreams and aspirations of generations of foreparents who knew education was the key greater freedom. It is kept before you in classrooms. You are reminded of it by the pictures on the walls of past presidents and alumni. It becomes a part of the conversations that you have as you speak of 'growing up' to be like black heroes and not just white ones. Now granted that was 30 years ago, or better. Times have indeed changed. But I am hardpressed to believe that some of that atmosphere is not needed by some of black students today.

And it is important to note, that these are schools that were welcoming of all races and colors. HCBU's were never guilty of the discrimination and bigotry as the larger predominately white counterparts. It was not just that blacks could attend HCBU's, it was that unlike other schools EVERYONE could go there if they wanted.

Were all professors great? Did all students turn out to be geniuses in waiting? Of course not. But I don't think we could argue that every Yale or Harvard graduate is brilliant. This is a question of not just education, in the popular sense. These are large questions regarding the role of exposure to an academic system that includes nurture, challenge, communal support and positive self imaging as elements to be included in the formula for lifelong success. And more students, I believe got it than didn't.

Mine was actually a choice to go to Bishop College instead of the University of Texas at Arlington. I have never doubted, nor regretted that decision. What I do regret, is that when Bishop was in trouble, I wasn't in a position to be able to provide more help than I did as a pastor. Our church did give money, but by the time I was able to convince our leaders that this was a real need, what we were able to give was much too little far too late.

We don't know that this isn't the case with Paul Quinn now. But if it is not too late to salvage the school, it will take a new attitude toward what it means to have an black college in Dallas. It will also mean, as Ragland says, that the college will have to prove its viability as well. Mere sympathy and romantic notions regarding what it means to save schools like this are not enough.

And while I place emphasis on African-American Dallasites being serious about Paul Quinn's survival, that's not letting anyone else off the hook. But it is a fact that those who can most effectively relay its value are those who have been and/or will be served by the school. There are students, donors and educators of all races and backgrounds who can enhance that value, but not if we don't believe its important.

If Paul Quinn is really worth saving, then, to paraphrase an old gospel song, we've got to show some sign.

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