This may be Black History Month, but for many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs,) the future is now.

Initially founded well over a century ago to educate Black folks recently removed from slavery, most of the more than 100 HBCUs sprinkled across the country have thrived academically to produce a number of influential alumni who credit their education for their successes.

The bulk of the first HBCUs were established between 1861 and 1900 “to train teachers, preachers and other community members,” according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum Of African American History And Culture. It’s safe to say that mission has been accomplished, and then some, considering HBCUs currently enjoy a higher graduation rate than some might have expected.

One big draw for students to HBCUs is the legacy factor, as many families have a rich history of sending their relatives to be educated at Black colleges. Another is the inviting idea of tradition, which many, if not all, HBCUs tout as a major selling point to prospective students.

The combination of both proved to be too much to resist for Deanna Jenkins, who recently documented her decision to enroll in and graduate from Spelman College, in Atlanta, which is consistently ranked in the top five among all HBCUs and top 100 nationally.

“Attending HBCUs gave [her family] opportunities to pursue degrees in environments where they were supported, protected, and reaffirmed,” Jenkins wrote for PBS recently. “It’s the reason why so many HBCU graduates like me go back for homecoming and fully intend to encourage future generations to attend HBCUs. Far beyond the tailgating, social media posts, and step shows — we are literally going back home.”

While we know why HBCUs mattered so much when they were first established in the evil shadow of the Civil War, they arguably are more important today in part because “At a point in history where our country, more than ever, needs to engage all of its best and brightest to compete on a global stage, HBCUs remain national resources that produce exemplars of innovation and citizenship,” Clark Atlanta University President Ron Johnson wrote in the Washington Post last year. “We must be woven into a future that our country can build together.”

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