[Episcopal News Service] House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina joined Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the presidents of Saint Augustine University and Voorhees College in a September 29 webinar promoting the role historically played by black colleges and universities in educating students to participate and contribute to American society.
Saint Augustine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Voorhees in Denmark, South Carolina, are the two historically black institutions, commonly referred to as HBCUs, that have deep ties to the Episcopal Church. Clyburn, the third House Democrat, has been a member of Congress since 1993 and represents South Carolina’s 6th.e District, which includes Voorhees.
âI’m a great HBCU champion,â Clyburn said, noting that he graduated from HBCU, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, and received honorary degrees from Saint Augustine and Voorhees. âThe HBCUs are very important. These are historical treasures, and I am committed to trying to restore every historic building on these campuses and to help restore a sense of pride. “
The webinar, which drew nearly 400 viewers, was promoted by the church‘s government relations and development offices, which the latter oversees. Absalom Jones Fund and an annual campaign of donations scheduled with the feast of February 13 celebrating the first black episcopal priest. Director of Government Relations Rebecca Blachly moderated the discussion.
âIt’s a time when we’ve seen more of the HBCUs in the limelight,â said Blachly, âand I think people are realizing the vital role these institutions play in our country.
Schools have been in the news lately because of the debate on money for them included in the federal spending plan proposed by the Biden administration and because Vice President Kamala Harris graduated from an HBCU, Howard University in Washington.
Curry’s parents and extended family attended HBCUs, and as a pastor in Baltimore, Md., He said many of the young people he cared for would have been left behind academically without the kick. thumb they received when they attended a historically black college.
âThese universities take young people, shape them and train them, not only academically, but train them spiritually and in terms of the character and moral fiber they will need to be successful in this world,â said Curry. “It’s an incredible gift.”
Historically, black colleges and universities were founded after the Civil War to provide educational opportunities for black men and women who were excluded from white higher education institutions due to segregation.
Saint Augustine’s was founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Church and opened its doors the following January. The school that would later become Voorhees College was founded in 1897 and the Episcopal Church has supported it since 1924.
About 100 of these schools are still open today across the United States, accepting students of all races. Enrollment at HBCUs has been declining since it peaked in 2010, when 327,000 students attended one of the colleges. This trend reflects an overall decline in all degree-granting institutions over the past decade, according to the federal government National Center for Education Statistics.
HBCUs still occupy a “special niche” in academia, Clyburn said, but their importance is often overlooked by society at large. âWe never just spent enough time making people understand what their role was,â he said. (Clyburn also attended a religious webinar on September 30 to promote his legislation to make âLift Every Voice and Singâ the country’s national anthem.)
The Episcopal Church’s recent work with historically black colleges and universities coincides with an increased focus on racial reconciliation under the leadership of Curry, who was elected in 2015 as the first African-American bishop to lead the Church. The church’s last two triennial budgets included over $ 1.6 million for Saint Augustine and Voorhees, and the church is in its fourth year of raising additional funds for both schools through its Absalom Jones Fund, with proceeds exceeding $ 200,000 since 2018.
Saint Augustine “was founded to train freed slaves and bring people into the ministry as ordained ministers in the Episcopal Church,” said Christine Johnson McPhail, the president of the university. The university is “still here and thriving today,” she said, although its mission has broadened as it prepares its students to enter the workforce and contribute to society.
Voorhees encourages its students to volunteer in the local community, said Ronnie hopkins, the president of the college. Students benefit from the welcoming environment on campus, but they don’t learn in isolation, he said. âWe have a responsibility to reach out to the community. “
HBCUs âhave a special love in our hearts for underachieving students, for struggling students,â Hopkins said, and schools have a reputation for serving the needs of African American students. At the same time, he said, schools are open to everyone and attract students who bring a variety of skill levels, talents and aspirations.
âThe HBCUs today are absolutely magnificent institutions. We are the best institutions in the country, âhe said. âWe work with these students and take them to the next level of excellence. “
– David Paulsen is editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at [email protected].