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'Gems of the state': NC legislators form HBCU caucus, the first of its kind


A digital sign is picture on N.C. Central University's campus showing its rank as 11th best HBCU according to US News and World Report's 2020 rankings is pictured in Durham on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019.

North Carolina state legislators have announced a bipartisan historically Black colleges and universities caucus, focusing on meeting the needs of historically Black higher education, making it the first state-level caucus of its kind in the country.

In U.S. Congress, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC 12th) founded the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus in 2015.

North Carolina's caucus is chaired in the state House by N.C. Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) and House Majority Whip N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford). N.C. Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) will chair the caucus in the state Senate, along with another senator yet to be announced, according to the News & Observer.

Hawkins, a graduate of two different North Carolina HBCUs, said about 30 members of the legislature have already signed on to be a part of the new caucus.

All announced chairs' districts are home to HBCUs, as N.C. Central University is in Durham County and N.C. A&T University is in Guilford County.

However, the caucus leaders have said the caucus is open to all legislators, regardless of whether they have attended an HBCU or represent a community that is home to one.

Allison Goff Clark, the deputy director of North Carolina programs at the Hunt Institute, said the caucus came about as a result of a listening tour of all 10 North Carolina HBCUs by organizations including Center for Racial Equity in Education, the Hunt Institute and more.

These organizations provide resources for the caucus, according to Goff Clark. 

Goff Clark said five other states have reached out to the Hunt Institute about creating an HBCU caucus in their own state.

"We just have such a rich history of historically Black college impact on the state of North Carolina," Hawkins said. "It felt very fitting for us to be the first in the nation to launch such a caucus.”

Hawkins also said North Carolina enrolls the most students at HBCUs of any state in the country. North Carolina has 10 total, including N.C. A&T, which is the largest in the country by enrollment.

Emmanuel Oritsejafor, the chairperson of the political science department at N.C. Central, said HBCUs are important for their historical reasons, but also for the opportunity they now provide for students of all backgrounds.

"We've seen a growing number of people that cuts across racial, ethnic and national backgrounds that are now going to HBCUs," Oritsejafor said. "And that says a lot about the opportunities they are granting everyone in the United States."

A 2014 study by the United Negro College Fund and Terry College of Business of the University of Georgia shows that North Carolina HBCUs have a total economic impact of over $1.7 billion, including creating over 15,000 jobs.

However, HBCUs have been consistently underfunded for years as compared to their predominantly white counterparts, and one of the goals of the caucus is changing that, according to Hawkins.

James Ford, the director of the Center for Racial Equity in Education, said he would like the caucus to invest in “intentional injections," or funding that supports the diverse workforce that HBCUs produce.

“It's our hope that we leverage the power of the state government to wrap our arms around what really are the gems of the state,” Ford said. 

In addition, the caucus hopes to engage and educate legislative members about HBCUs, their importance to the state and how to best serve these institutions, Hawkins said.

The caucus is a bipartisan effort, an aspect Hawkins said is important to all members involved. He said he wanted to model the caucus after the federal bipartisan, bicameral HBCU caucus.

“No matter who's in charge, Democrat or Republican, HBCUs should be a priority,” he said.


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