By Tyria Bourda - Staff Writer
In the week following the announcement that lawmakers had formed a bipartisan historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus, HBCU students visited the legislature to advocate for their schools.
Representatives Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, and Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, announced the formation of a new historically black colleges and universities caucus, along with senators Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, and Carl Ford, R-Rowan.
The mission of this joint legislative H.B.C.U. Caucus is to educate and engage members of the North Carolina General Assembly in a bipartisan and bicameral manner on the successes and benefits of the state’s 10 historically black colleges and universities.
Students from schools like North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University, and Johnson C. Smith University joined alongside North Carolina lawmakers to express the importance of HBCUs to other lawmakers.
“Many of us have been convinced that our vote doesn’t matter. But I am here to say that that isn’t true,” Winston-Salem State University student David Wilson said. “Our elders and ancestors fought for their freedom and rights and that is something that we need to continue.”
Thus, North Carolina has more HBCUs in the country than any other state. Together, they contribute more than $1.7 billion to North Carolina’s economy.
Knowing that lawmakers like Sen. Gladys Robinson from Guilford County say HBCUs are vital to North Carolina’s economy and are the future of the state.
“These students represent the reason I’m here. If it had not been for HBCUs, Bennett College, North Carolina A&T State University, I would not be prepared to be a legislator,” Robinson said.
NCCU student Jamel Williams stated that since N.C. HBCUs contribute to the economy, then legislators should reciprocate funding and resources to the universities.
“This is the next step in protecting democracy and uplifting the deep need for voting equality in North Carolina,” said Williams.
Shaw University student Zaid Steele said, “HBCUs are important for our communities because they bring history and they bring African Americans and other students like me to strive. This is the next step in protecting democracy and uplifting the deep need for voting equality in North Carolina,” WSSU student David Wilson said.”
Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, a co-chair of the HBCU caucus, said that HBCUs have the ability to maximize the potential of students such as those who gathered at the press conference. But if the state doesn’t properly support the schools, many students could be left behind.
“They are taking people like me, they are taking people like Sen. Robinson and allowing us to use our voices for good,” he said of HBCUs. “Legislators, be on notice, HBCU students will be back.”
Hawkins also emphasized that he and his colleagues want this to be a continuous process; where students and leaders come together and look at HBCU needs. The next step will be for lawmakers to visit campuses, listen to their concerns, and implement solutions.