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Why I left a white college for an HBCU

Chinedu Nwokeafor, an alumnus of Morgan State University, speaks in Annapolis during a rally in November to support funding of Maryland's four historically black colleges.
Chinedu Nwokeafor, an alumnus of Morgan State University, speaks in Annapolis during a rally in November to support funding of Maryland's four historically black colleges. (Brian Witte/AP)

I recently completed my first semester as a transfer student at Morgan State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), and I couldn’t be more elated.

The nurturing culture that I’ve experienced at Morgan has been invaluable, playing an integral role in me earning a 3.71 GPA and a spot on the dean’s list. From professors who are vested in my success to alumni who have taken me under their wings to ensure that I accomplish my career goals, Morgan will always be near and dear to my heart.

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This story wasn’t my experience two years ago, when I attended a local, predominantly white university. Instead of feeling welcomed and appreciated for what I could offer the university, I often felt isolated in a sea of huge classes where I was among a handful of people of color. Moreover, I was concerned for my safety because of racist incidents on campus: nooses were hung at fraternity houses, and swastikas were scrawled on dormitory walls, among other more serious acts.

Some question the importance of HBCUs in an era when black students can go to any college of their choice. The funding for these institutions, which were started in the time of segregation, is constantly under attack, and some have even closed or faced the threat of closure because they didn’t have the resources to keep the institutions running.

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I am here to tell you that HBCUs still play an important role in higher education.

Now that Congress has approved permanent funding of HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, I’m even more enthusiastic about my collegiate experience at Morgan. Known as the FUTURE Act (Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education), the legislation provides HBCUs with mandatory annual funding to help educate students like me who want to make a positive difference in our world.

The state should also show its commitment to HBCUs and settle a long standing lawsuit by a coalition of four HBCUs in Maryland, including Morgan, to make up for decades of the underfunding of our esteemed institutions. Morgan students have been on the front line of this fight and even attended a recent rally in Annapolis regarding the issue.

HBCUs are valuable resources to our nation and have graduated many prominent people, including April Ryan, a White House news correspondent, and Earl Graves, founder of Black Enterprise magazine — both of whom graduated from Morgan and are examples of the best our country has to offer. Civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famed author Toni Morrison and TV mogul Oprah Winfrey also graduated from HBCUs.

I look forward to soon being counted among the many distinguished Morgan alumni, and consistent funding will help to ensure that my HBCU experience remains a positive one. That experience includes being nurtured in a compassionate way — a way that values you as a person, not just as another number.

After I transferred to Morgan, I received extraordinary support from members of the Howard County Chapter of the Morgan State University National Alumni Association. They gave me a scholarship to help fund my education, and they helped me find other financial assistance as well. Furthermore, those same alumni introduced me to other Morgan graduates who have been supportive beyond anything I could have imagined. Morgan students are also like family, and I have found that to be the case with my friends on campus.

Another positive aspect of my HBCU experience: understanding the importance of giving back to the local community. And to that end, Morgan provides myriad opportunities to participate in public service. I’m involved with several campus groups that emphasize giving back in Baltimore. From mentoring young high school girls to feeding the homeless, I’ve learned that we are a better society when we support others.

Morgan also makes sure that its students are confident leaders who are academically prepared to stand out in their respective careers. As a nursing major, I am eager to learn from my professors who actually take the time to ensure that I understand my academic concepts.

Morgan is the right place for me to help make my dreams a reality. I just pray that the funding for it and other HBCUs will be there in the future. HBCUs provide exceptional value to their students who have made outstanding contributions to our society. It’s past time that we treated them as such.

Autumn L. Johnson (aujoh7@morgan.edu) is a junior nursing major at Morgan State University.

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