By Staff Writer
State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes has been a champion for Pennsylvania’s two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). During a recent interview with FunTimes, he reflected on the importance of HBCUs and the positive economic impact these institutions are having on the black community.
Sen. Hughes cited the recent study, The Equality of Opportunity Project: The best Pa. colleges to take you from the bottom of the income ladder to the top, which focused on the issue of colleges and the economic upward mobility of their graduates. The study found that Lincoln University ranked first and Cheyney University was sixth among Pennsylvania colleges in moving low-income graduates into economic security and prosperity.
“What they're producing on their campuses has a huge impact in terms of moving folks out of bad economic situations into good and great economic situations,” Sen. Hughes said. “That’s the importance of HBCUs. It's very clear to see and understand. So that's why we need to invest in them.”
He said legislation has just been introduced in Harrisburg to create the Office of HBCU Excellence, which would be established within the Department of Education. “I have a deputy secretary level appointment leading it to have the responsibility of understanding the importance of Cheyney and Lincoln universities and making sure that every aspect of state government connects with the two universities and helps them facilitate their interactions with every other aspect of state government in the private sector,” Sen. Hughes disclosed.
“We see their importance in terms of the history and tradition … of the huge economic impacts.” He said Cheyney and Lincoln just graduated more than 600 students this year … more people of color than most of the colleges in Pennsylvania combined.
“We still face issues of challenge and access in terms of higher education institutions,” Sen. Hughes said, “… the nurturing, support and understanding that exists here is not replicated in most other institutions across Pennsylvania. That’s why they’ve got to be supported.
“The number one function of any alumni is to give back, financially and as advocates,” Sen. Hughes said. “Although we have achieved much in the areas of integration, there's still a lot of pushback. It was represented most vividly with President Obama and other recent incidents.
“When you can't get a cup of coffee without … getting arrested ... play golf without someone wanting to kick you off the golf course … get waffles without someone calling the police … can't even get your workout because someone wants to kick you out of the fitness center … (only) because you are Black … that's unacceptable.
“We need to know that freedom has a cost to it. Freedom ain't free. It is an organic struggle … we always got to fight. We always got to push.”
Sen. Hughes, who received an honorary degree during Lincoln’s 159th Commencement ceremony,
said that graduates need to know that they have spent their years on hallowed ground. He reflected on some of Lincoln’s prominent graduates, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, author Langston Hughes and the first president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah — regarded as agents of change.
“Graduates have a responsibility to keep that change going — that philosophy is making a difference and not tolerating segregation, discrimination, or second-class realities,” Sen. Hughes said.
“That’s their responsibility to knock those walls down — to obliterate those walls completely because they are reemerging.”
FunTimes is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on the city’s push towards economic justice. This reporting was made possible with support from Resolve Philadelphia. To read more of our reporting please go to https://brokeinphilly.org