HBCUs Make Sure Higher Ed is Within Reach

The hard downpour of rain could not keep eager students and parents from getting to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 10 for an annual college recruitment fair sponsored by Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Now in its 16th year, the HBCU Festival hosted nearly 10,000 attendees at the Gaylord, with 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) ready to pitch their individual schools and to offer scholarships.

Event sponsors included Ernst and Young, Thompson Hospitality and Burke & Herbert Bank. Lead sponsor was Facebook, which opened the event with a video message from COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Representing Facebook in the D.C. area was Reginald B. McKnight, head of the social media network’s U.S. Infrastructure Public Policy, who reinforced Facebook’s commitment to HBCUs through the company’s diversity team.

“This festival is a profound example of what happens when we give all our kids opportunities,” McKnight said. “More than 25,000 students have been connected to HBCUs and more than $6 million in scholarships have been awarded over the years at this festival.”

Nearly 425 Alfred Street Baptist congregants were at the Gaylord to manage the massive event, a far cry from its inaugural year when five HBCU graduates were in the church basement talking up the value of an HBCU education to about 30 interested students.

Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, the church’s senior pastor, stressed the importance of the event to his parishioners and to the community.

“Alfred Street is a historic church and we believe in the history of our people,” Wesley said. “We believe that HBCUs are viable institutions to shape that next generation of young Black men and women who are going to change the world. As long as we exist, this event will keep on going.”

The church is known for doing things in a big way, having donated $1 million to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

On the exhibit floor, students and parents walked through the rows of booths with colleges, community organizations, branches of the military, federal government agencies, sororities and fraternities. While parents rested their tired feet, their excited teens gathered information on colleges they’ve dreamed of attending.

Mitchellville residents John and Joy Jackson, both engineers and Howard University graduates, listened to recruiters and to what their son Jelani was thinking.

“We are both strong advocates of the HBCU experience,” John Jackson said. “We believe it is nurturing and that is important during your formative years. We wanted both our sons to see other people like them, to know that they are not the only ones on this journey.”

Jelani, a junior at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, made the rounds to 12 college booths. He is interested in pursuing an engineering career, just like his parents. He attended a session about getting a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

“I am looking forward to finding myself and who I am,” Jelani said. “There are a lot of things that I’m not ready for, but I will be ready for as time comes. That is the good thing about going away to college.”

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