A recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research gives a sobering professional outlook for African-American college graduates. In 2013, more than 12 percent of Black college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed -- a figure that more than doubles the national unemployment average for all ethnic groups in the same age range.
The numbers decline slightly for Black students working in S.T.E.M. industries, but the same disparity exists between our students and those from outside of our communities. As gaps in wealth and opportunity widen for Black folks and the rest of America, two points crystallize about the state of our cultural and economic priorities; more Black folks attending predominantly white institutions hasn't made us richer, and anyone earning a college degree should be thinking more of job creation than job eligibility.
These alarming statistics make entrepreneurship in Black communities more of a matter of crisis survival than lofty, out-of-the-box thinking. If African-Americans are to create any model of wealth with its dollars circulating in our communities, it requires more Black people and more Black institutions partnering to incubate and cultivate a generation of professionals in a select range of fields.
The historically Black college must be at the absolute center of this partnership.
At their genesis, HBCUs were a byproduct of racist segregation policies against newly freed slaves and, in some cases, an easy target for wealthy white philanthropists to ease their racial guilt. But the tenacity of African-Americans forced these schools to be more than training ground for teachers, preachers and farmers; they became the engines of Black innovation, scholarship and theoretical development. Out of HBCUs came Black America's greatest generation: the writers, artists, scientists, scholars, pastors, physicians, engineers, activists and lawyers who, after graduating in the mid-forties and early fifties, changed American history in the sixties and seventies.
Their objective was to shift the nation's conscience to recognize African-Americans and capable, civil contributors to society, and their work was not in vain. The window of opportunity for African-Americans has been thrown open in government, business and entertainment, but these are areas where one or some African-Americans "making it" can give the false impression that all African-Americans have arrived. The resulting racial tension of Black folks still seeking equity and inclusion against the undercurrent of anti-Black animus has revealed itself in an uptick of racially based violence, economic neglect and disparity in the penal system against our people.
The simple act of Black folks seeking jobs and opportunities spurs so much resentment and forces covert efforts to keep young Black professionals out of work, and demands a new perspective on what Black America's next "greatest generation" will look like. That next generation must be the entrepreneurial generation; those who graduated from college, returned to Black communities and set up shop in the civic traditions of Tulsa, Atlanta, Durham, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and other historic areas of Black commerce and culture.
Where these cities once thrived with districts of finance, arts, fashion, media, food and religion, they have been splintered by the mass exodus of Black wealth away from these communities. Moreover, in the greatest racial irony, the disdain for HBCUs among established and affluent Black families has forced the HBCU into near-extinction.
The same HBCU that created the Black middle class is now, unfairly, the largest symbol of Black scholastic mediocrity and hindrance to financial and social independence for African-Americans.
Fortunately, many HBCUs press forward in the face of shrinking appropriations from federal and state resources and dwindling enrollment to extend the mission of access and opportunity to those who still value it. Many HBCUs have established small business development centers, economic incubators, and entrepreneurial based curriculum that, in the best of circumstances, may convince a handful of bright Black graduates to stay in their HBCU communities and to find ways in developing wealth there.
But the HBCU is capable of more, and crisis times require our institutions to return to the habits borne out of segregation which forced the need and pride of community reliance. Every HBCU seeking to enhance its web and mobile app development should be actively seeking to hire Black tech startups. Every HBCU should be racing to hire minority food service vendors for its campus dining programs. Every HBCU should be advertising heavily in Black-owned newspapers, magazines and blogs. Every HBCU should be contracting with Black psychologists for its counseling and mental health outreach programs. Every HBCU should be doing business with Black-owned banks, accountants and investment firms.
Every HBCU should be finding ways to partner with Black-owned charter schools. Every HBCU should be bringing emerging Black scholars and speakers to its campus for lecture series and convocation. Every HBCU should solicit local Black-owned businesses and offer affordable athletic sponsorship opportunities. Every HBCU should have a press or publishing house to produce the journals and books of faculty and alumni.
Every degree program offered at every HBCU in the United States should have at least three examples of where the college or university is investing in esteemed graduates of that program. There is no hope for an institution that doesn't show faith in its own products, especially in an economic climate where very few beyond the campus gates value emerging Black professional talent.
And every HBCU should be actively seeking ways to put money into the coffers of existing Black businesses, or to create new ones in uncharted professional territories. Anything less than an all-out renaissance in Black business development, led anywhere beyond the borders of our HBCU communities, only hastens our path to community marginalization and destruction.