They stole Harlem.
It’s not the real Brooklyn anymore.
“Chocolate City” is history.
You know they about to take Newark.
Macklemore is not hip-hop.
They twerkin’ now?
That is NOT the real Harlem Shake.
They stole jazz.
Add a couple game requests, misquoted bible verses, Buzzfeed, Lupita slaying the red carpet and Scandal Thursdays and that about sums up much of my social media timelines as of late. Of all of the digital noise, the chatter about Brooklyn has really given me pause.
I’m not from Brooklyn, but I understand the strong emotions that are being stirred up in folks who feel marginalized and pushed out. The debates about so-called gentrification have me thinking about erasure. It not just that folks are being bumped out and that old haunts are disappearing, it’s also that they are being forgotten. At first there are still memories, but then by the time the third cupcake shop opens and after they knock down the row houses to make room for the stadium, people start to forget.
It would be great if we could identify the roots of change that are more tangible than the mysterious “they” who takes everything away. There’s a pretty vocal outcry about what is being taken from people, but barely a whisper about what people are giving away.
The distinction between being taken, or being given away is striking a chord with me as I plan for my class reunion at Hampton University. Over the last few months, I’ve read at least a dozen articles about the fate of HBCUs. The articles usually lean towards shaming alumni, blaming racism and chastising HBCUs for not keeping up with the times. Having recently served as a professor at Hampton, I am aware of some of the struggles that institutions face. Schools are closing, faculty are often stretched to their limits in terms of class loads, facility issues etc.
When I was in my 20s, I remember having a conversation with Hampton’s president, Dr. Harvey. He was asking my opinion about why younger people were not giving. I sat there and put all of the onus on Hampton. It was Hampton’s job to sell the school all over again to people who had already matriculated. I explained that some of them had issues with waiting in long lines, paperwork mixups, cafeteria food etc. Perplexed, he simply responded, “Hampton is your home. It’s part of your responsibility now to help take care of it.” He’s right.
I’m not going to gloss over the very real problems that exist at many HBCUs. There is work that needs to be done internally. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have a love/hate (mostly love) with my own alma mater…but I still give back. I don’t want to give HBCUs away. I don’t want to lose them because of passive neglect.
This message isn’t really meant for people who don’t believe in the mission of HBCUs. It’s also not meant for people who had a truly terrible experience and now make a conscious choice not to give. I’m talking to the majority in the middle – we wear paraphernalia, go to homecomings, plan alumni mixers at local restaurants, but don’t take the time to go online and donate to the schools we love.
The conversations that public intellectuals are having about how race, unemployment and generational wealth impact HBCU alumni giving have nothing to do with why many of us have spent more money on homecoming outfits, than on giving. The bottom line is that we have to hold ourselves personally accountable for taking care of our own “homes.” Give back. It’s that simple.
I recognize that there are people who may not be able to give hundreds of dollars, but I am going to take a leap and say that I don’t know anyone who couldn’t put $5 on it.
Instead of endless theoretical debates, let’s take tangible steps towards being part of the solution. Join me in the #HBCUGIVEBACK movement. It’s this simple:
(1) Below is a list of HBCU links. Make a donation of any size to the school of your choice.
(2) Take a picture like the ones you see here. It should read:
(3) Use the #HBCUGIVEBACK photo as your profile pic on your social media accounts and upload to the #HBCUGIVEBACK FB page.
(4) Share this post and encourage your friends to take part.
(5) Give a polite, virtual side-eye to your friends who don’t participate.
A few months back, 98% of my Facebook timeline had changed their profile pictures to a photo of a giraffe, because they couldn’t figure out a riddle. Hopefully we can get that same enthusiasm about something that can help change lives.
As I keep hearing about how much has been lost, or stolen, I can’t help but to think of how things might be a little different we put up stronger fights. I don’t ever want to ever hear:
They stole Hampton.
It’s not the real Spelman anymore.
“The Mecca” is history.
You know they about to take Tuskegee.
~ Phill Branch
Class of ‘94
OgreVIII (It’s a Hampton thing)