BHM 365: An HBCU Panel Event

At Democracy Prep, Black history is more than one month, it is celebrated and made 365 days of the year. 

This year, we focused our attention and appreciation to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). At a time when Black people were prevented from enrolling in institutions of higher education, HBCUs were created to provide more opportunities to Black Americans and played a pivotal role in establishing and expanding the Black middle class. 

This legacy has endured. Today, there are more than 100 HBCUs in the United States which serve over 228,000 students all over the country. They are institutions that nurtured and cultivated the minds of incredible people like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Morehouse College), Toni Morrison (Howard University), Langston Hughes (Lincoln University), Alice Walker (Spelman College), Michael Strahan (Texas Southern University), and Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), to name a few. Many of our own DPPS staff attended HBCUs, including Spelman College, Hampton University, Delaware State University, Tennessee State University, and Cheyney State University. We also have a good number of DPPS alumni who are current or former HBCU students. 

We want to thank Eric Smiley, Dean of Culture at Democracy Prep Endurance High School and alum of Delaware State University, for sharing his love and appreciation for all that his HBCU experience has done for him. His motto and brand, “Stay True To My HBCU,” is an outlet to connect all HBCUs worldwide and highlight the true meaning of Black Excellence. He inspired our theme for this year’s Black History Month!

On Umoja Day, we came together as a network to virtually join a panel in celebration of the rich history of HBCUs, to hear from HBCU graduates about their invaluable experiences attending an HBCU, and how it has shaped their professional lives. 

Our panel had some familiar faces from Democracy Prep as well as external professionals from diverse industries. We heard from incredible individuals like:

• Darren Boykin, President of Ascension Technical Consultants, Inc., Graduate of Morehouse College
• Shanique Clement
, Principal of Democracy Prep Charter High School, Graduate of Hampton University
• Nakita Green
, Principal of Democracy Prep Charter Middle School, Graduate of Tennessee State University
• Kristina Savoy
, Chief Learning Officer at the District of Columbia Department of Human Resources, Graduate of Spelman College
• Eric Smiley
, Dean of Culture at Democracy Prep Endurance High School and Founder of “Stay True To My HBCU” Brand, Graduate of Delaware State University

We also had the esteemed pleasure of having this event moderated by Joi Neely, a senior scholar at Democracy Prep Charter High and future graduate of Howard University.

Here are some gems from this evening of Black excellence!

Nakita Green: “HBCUs are magical. When you are on campus it truly feels like sacred ground. I only applied to HBCUs—because I knew they could provide a place where I could grow and flourish. At Tennessee State University, I felt seen and heard as a Black woman. Where I grew up, I was the only Black student in the classroom, but at my university I saw so many beautiful, intelligent, and competitive Black women that taught me so much about myself and the world.”

Shanique Clement: “A highlight from my time at Hampton University was the opportunity to experience how diverse people can be, especially within the Black community. My experiences with my people were limited to other Caribbean people and New Yorkers. From my young point of view all Black people behaved and acted like New Yorkers. But when I went to Hampton I encountered Black people from all over the country, who had completely different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. It was beautiful to learn how diverse our community truly is.” 

Eric Smiley: “One of the highlights at Delaware State University is joining my fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi), where I met and connected with so many successful people that looked like me. They inspired me to get involved on campus, build relationships, and understand that I have the power to achieve anything I put my mind to. My experience ultimately shaped me into the man I am today and how I can continue to achieve for myself and my family.”

Kristina Savoy: “One thing from my HBCU experience that helped change my mindset is this quote, ‘Don’t trust your fears because your fears don’t know your strengths.’ This taught me to understand that I get to curate my own story, to know what my gifts are, and how I can be my authentic self. I know that I have the power to create the life I want for myself and go boldly for what I want.”

Darren Boykin: “One way that my time at Morehouse changed my mindset is understanding the depth of where we are as Black Americans; I learned about the various ways that Black Americans have contributed to our history. You see a lot of information about Martin Luther King, Malcom X, or John Lewis, but our impact is so much greater. You look at the automotive industry, agriculture, engineering; you name it, we’re there. We have a rich history and we continue to make important contributions to our society.” 

We are so incredibly fortunate to have a team and community full of people with a mix of broad educational experiences, business expertise, and organizational savvy. This event was a reminder that every day lived is a day we are making history.

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