Black College Expo reflects the culture of the HBCU experience

LOS ANGELES, CA-If she had her choice of where she wanted to attend college, Ashley Joseph would have picked Spelman College, the historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia, with a dominant female student-body. However, Joseph said she was not able to get into the revered institution. So she settled on attending UCLA to obtain her bachelor’s degree.

Joseph would later move on to the University of Southern California (USC) to pick up her master’s degree in social work. So what was she doing at the 20th Annual Black College Expo (Los Angeles), a yearly expedition that takes place during the first week of February?

Well, Joseph actually found herself on the fontline of promoting historically black colleges and universities, standing front and center at the Black College Today booth inside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, encouraging interested patrons to sign up for a subsciption of the magazine that features the lifestyle and culture of the HBCU experience.

Black College Expo-HBCU
Fort Valley State University representative Brandon Gerty at the 20th Annual Black College Expo-Los Angeles-at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Despite the fact that she did not attend an HBCU, Joseph believes she can give insight to students on the importance of matriculating at one of these schools.

“Spelman was actually my top choice, but I didn’t get in, but I think I am really acclimated on knowing what it is means to be a black student on a black college campus,” Joseph said.

She added that Black College Today helps students to have a better insight on what it’s like attending an HBCU.

“As a student who lives in California, I’m not exposed to what means to be black on a black college campus at an HBCU, so our magaizne brings that information forward to expose what happens on back college campuses,” Joseph said. “It just spreads the information that’s needed for sudents that don’t have the means or don’t have the awareness what it means to be at an HBCU.”

Black College Expo
Prairie View A&M and graduate student Marquice O’Leary making their presence felt at the 20th Annual Black College Expo-Los Angeles-at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

There are just over 100 historically black colleges and universities (101) spread out throughout the United States. None of these schools exist in California. But in response to the dismissal of affirmative action at California colleges and universities two decades ago, Dr. Theresa Price, founder of the National College Resources Foundation (NCRF), brought black colleges to students here in the state.

Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, New York, Houston, Oakland, Sacramento, are just some of the municipalities the Black College Expo has spread to. Since its birth, the Black College Expo has been able to land over $500 million in scholarship and grant monies. More than a half million students have gone on to collect their college education, thanks to the Black College Expo.

So great has the demand been that Price and NCRF have launched the Black College Expo in multiple cities across the country. Fort Valley State University representative Brandon Gerty said the Black College Expo highlight the need for these instirutions and for students outside of their geographical areas to connect. What these schools have to offer black students they can’t anywhere else, he said.

Grambling State University brought their crew of alumni to the 20th Annual Black College Expo-Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“The HBCU tradition and experiences is one that you get from no other institutions,” Gerty said. “We’re geared towards the success of our African American students and minority students as well. HBCUs are very needed. Not all students have (a grade point average) 3.0’s or 4.0’s to be able to get into these Ivy League top name schools. So HBCU’s are needed for students who didn’t too well in high school. They still deserve a chance. HBCU’s are relevant for that reason if nothing else, they give a student the chance to be successful in life, to earn a degree.”

At the 2018 Black College Expo that took place in Los Angeles, Gerty said the school received over 600 applications from students attending the daylong college recruiting fair. He estimates that 60 students were actually accepted and enrolled into the university from the one day event.

“We felt that was just enough to come back again,” said Gerty.

Black College Expo
Grayson Mitchell (right) helped volunteer at the Howard University table during the 20th Annual Black College Expo-Los Angeles event. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Grayson Mitchell came out to the Black College Expo to volunteer his time to talk to students and their parents about his alma mater Howard University. Mitchell, who earned a degree in business, said the education and the cultural vibrancy he received at Howard is immeasurable.

“I think that before attending Howard, the HBCU experience to me was very clouded,” Mitchell said. “I had no idea what it meant. However, after attending Howard I understand that it is ultimately a journey inward. I think that a lot of times we’re so focused on th external world; at Howard, we can be comfortable with being black and then we can learn about ourselves and grow. I think it really fosters not only our earned money but also our businesses and whatever we get our degrees in.”

When it comes to the relavancy of HBCUs in an ever increasing diverse world in college education, Mitchell said that is a matter of perspective. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the transformation is happening. Based on 2016 numbers, the National Center for Education Statistics states the non-blacks make up 23 percent of the student-body at HBCUs, an eight percent increase from 1976 (15 percent).

Southern University at the Black College Expo in Los Angeles
Southern University were accepting applications and qualifying prospective studentss at the 20th Annual Black College Expo-Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“I think that you could definitely argue both sides of that coin,” Mitchell said. “I would say going back to my first time in at Howard, you could be comfortable with your skin. A lot of times in this world we’re taught or we’re supposed to be uncomfortable, whether we’re too big or too little or too black or too light-skinned. I think at Howard, you could really be comfortable and that allows you to really understand who you are and who you want to be and what you want to do in this world.”

Marquice O’Leary is a graduate student at Prairie View A&M University. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the university and now works at the school. The former football standout who grew up in Southern California (Rancho Cucumonga) fears that the HBCU experience is slowly

“Today, an HBCU is a dying out environment,” O’Leary said. “With the intergrated racism going on, it’s a great a thing that’s happening at an HBCU, but now you’re seeing HBCU’s become more diverse because the black culture is now getting expanded to other ethnicities.”

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