For years, there have been conversations both inside and outside of the Black community that African Americans should receive reparations for the 400 years of chattel slavery in America, where Blacks worked for free without receiving wages. Think about it. People are not just going to give you money. 

One Atlanta professor is using her voice as a vehicle to start the conversation about how America’s elite college institutions, which have been proven to have participated in slavery, partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities  (HBCUs) as a way of leading on reparations and giving back to the Black community.

Felicia Davis, the founder of the HBCU Green Fund and Director of Sustainability at Clark Atlanta University, said schools like Harvard, Yale, Rutgers, and MIT have billions of dollars in endowments that could be used to invest in Black colleges. 

To Davis, investing in Black colleges means investing in Black communities, providing wealth and resources that can help to improve communities surrounding HBCU’s and minimize crime, health disparities, and racial inequality.

“For some time, I have been working with HBCU’s in the green space, where the black population generally is left out when it comes to social and economic impact,” Davis said. “I’ve studied slavery and the history of some of America’s elite institutions and their relationships to slavery. Harvard, Yale, and MIT are regarded as elite institutions in America and around the world. These institutions could partner with HBCUs to reconstruct the country.”

Davis said her research also included reading a book, “Ebony and Ivy,” by Craig Steven Wilder, that documented the significant contribution by enslaved people and the slave trade made to the development of virtually all of the oldest and most well-endowed higher education institutions. 

According to Wilder, Harvard, William& Mary, Yale, and Rutgers universities were major beneficiaries of the African slave trade and slavery.

“There was a time when there was a system in America where Blacks were not humans and had no rights. Black people help build this nation and received nothing for their labor,” Davis said. “Harvard makes as much on endowments as much as all HBCUs combined have in endowments. 

“There has been a collective impact of systemic racism where these elite institutions have made wealth on the backs of the Black community,” she added. “It shows wealth disparity and how it has happened over time.”

Davis said that elite colleges like Harvard and Yale are tax-exempt entities. She said these elite colleges can use their resources to restore, repair, and make amends with the Black community. 

She also said that small investments from these elite institutions would help reinvigorate Black colleges. 

As a result, Davis has started an advocacy project and is moving to set up an impact investment fund, where projects in HBCUs will be prioritized. 

Two hundred years after the founding of Harvard, the first HBCUs were established to educate former slaves and their descendants. Today, HBCUs play a critical role in deconstructing ideologies that perpetuate systemic racism that undergirds health, education, and wealth disparities.

Jelani Favors, an associate professor of history at Clayton State University, said HBCUs are now at a crossroads and have opened themselves to be a catalyst again in their communities. He said that generational trauma exits and that racism is the oldest pandemic in America, that has yet to be dealt with.

Black people in this country have been subjected to various forms of trauma that have been compounded from one generation to the next,” Favors said. “Health disparities, systemic poverty and the wealth gap, a broken educational system, and state sponsored violence are just a few areas that reflect how institutionalized white supremacy has effectively undermined the freedom dreams of Black folks for several generations.

America has the resources to address these inequities,” he continued. “The question is does it have the will power to help Blacks? The general frustration and anger is that these issues have never been met. We fail as a nation to deal with these inequities. Each generation has brought up these issues.

Favors added that he feels HBCU’s are underfunded by the state and federal government due to racist policies and a tiered system and said that the system is a bi-product of slavery.

“Many of these American institutions sold slaves to keep their doors open. It has never been equitable,” said Favors, who recently authored a book, “Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism.” “Indeed our current traumas are our past traumas too.”

“One could easily arrive at the conclusion that unless we stand at this current crossroad with a determination to finally rid ourselves of racist policies in all facets of American life, that future generations will view this as yet another betrayal of the American dream as Black America once did at the end of Reconstruction, the end of both World Wars, and the end of the 1960s that also witnessed widespread insurrections and unrest,” Favors urged. “Just like Gettysburg, Black colleges are also sacred ground. These institutions have been able to do more with less. It’s about time these institutions get support and funding.”

Davis agreed, adding that the time is now to demand for the support that HBCUs need.

“Today, the top five well-endowed institutions that benefited from slavery possess collective endowments in excess of 100 billion and the total for the richest twenty exceeds 200 billion,” Davis said. “We are asking for a two percent investment from these elite institutions over the next 10 years. It would be beneficial to Harvard and beneficial to HBCU’s. 

“I’m here to demand that investment in my lifetime,” she reiterated. “We cannot allow our institutions to crumble when people are sitting on wealth.”

Davis said she feels that large investments can be managed well at Black colleges and the surrounding communities can thrive. Additionally, with these investments, people can see HBCU’s as top institutions in America. 

She said she is not complaining or pointing fingers: “When white people say, ‘I know that my family owned slaves,’ apologies without resources is not good enough.

“The American psyche seems to think that Blacks are not equally human to others. The graphic and horrific treatment that happens to Blacks don’t happen to other groups,” said Davis. “I don’t condone rioting and violence, but I agree with Black Lives Matter. It is important right now in this moment that we invest in our infrastructure. It works for Georgia State University and Georgia Tech University and it will work for us.”

Davis said she is appealing to these elite institutions, HBCU alumni, including celebrity alumni, churches, and Black organizations. 

“Our black students deserve the best and it’s proven that they thrive at HBCUs,” Davis said. “We have produced genres from nothing. Look at Hip Hop music. I will not go out not having said it. We deserve it. This is our legacy.”

(Photo: Mike Steward/Associated Press)

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