When I reflect on the spate of bomb threats made to HBCU campuses over the last few weeks, I am reminded of an old Negro spiritual, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
As the president of Morgan State University, a public historically Black research university with more than 8,000 students in Baltimore, Maryland, I’ve dealt with the bomb threats made to more than 20 HBCU campuses — this year alone — by doing everything in my power to keep our students safe.
But as I mentally processed these threats, what loomed large was the history of resilience, rebellion, and struggle that the visionary founders of these storied institutions had to endure before birthing our current-day campuses.
Those founders knew that the journey laid before them would be a rough one, the terrain arduous and rugged, the rivers deep and unrelenting. Moreover, they fully recognized that they were putting their very lives on the line as they marched for, fought for, and, sadly, for many, died for the right to live free and to create institutions that would educate their sons and daughters.
When you know that powerful history of struggle and sacrifice — and understand what has been sacrificed over centuries for Black people — to obtain access to an education, a bomb threat represents yet another ineffectual scare tactic. Bomb threats are rooted in hatred that will never deter us from what HBCUs have done so extraordinarily well for more than a century and a half.
Without question, HBCUs have provided a consequential education to millions of students, enabling them to relish an ever-elusive American Dream that our early predecessors could only fantasize about experiencing. It is irrefutable that these institutions have transformed so many lives and communities and, in the process, have brought into existence the modern-day Black middle class in this country.
The same connective tissue supported the founding of practically every HBCU in the country: the desire to hold America accountable and have her live up to the ideals embedded in her Constitution that “all men (and women) are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This push was the impetus for what we refer to today as DEI, or diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our founders strongly believed that if America truly embraced that constitutional pronouncement, then it must open its doors to everyone.
To the disappointment of many, states often fell short of being united and upholding those constitutional tenets. For decades, elected officials turned their backs on their commitment to make these United States a more perfect union.
As a result, these legendary HBCU founders paved a way where one did not previously exist. They created educational institutions to provide opportunities to students shut out of existing higher education structures. History will forever document their impact and legacy. And what a glorious and remarkable history of achievement it has been for these schools. HBCUs are the top producers of Black doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, lawyers and journalists, to name a few.
So, against this backdrop, it seems that the bomb threats that targeted more than 20 HBCU campuses were designed to intimidate these institutions, to frighten the communities we serve and to disrupt the transformational education taking place on our campuses.
It appears the people behind these threats want to send a message to our campuses: that many people in America still don’t like that we have historically educated, and continue to educate, freethinkers — individuals who, after coming through our doors, get an education that cannot be compromised, undermined, or hijacked. And, HBCU graduates go on to provide the type of leadership that enables us to live up to the ideals of our Constitution.
Our students are taught factual history and are expected to understand exactly how our nation came into existence. Evidence-based, empirical learning serves as our guidepost. We do not subscribe to notions rooted in nonsense, misinformation, half-truths, and lies.
If you come to Morgan, you will get, much as I did as an undergraduate at Tuskegee University, the real deal. You will be challenged to think deeply about the issues of the past, why and how they happened, and what we, as a society, must continue to do to prevent much of what happened in the past from recurring.
So, let me be clear, if these bomb threats to our campuses were designed to silence us, they will fail. We shall not be moved!
Maya Angelou reminded the nation in her powerful poem “And Still I Rise” that, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
HBCUs will always be the truth tellers — the innovators — and, as we come through this bitterly polarized era of American history, our campuses are fully prepared to be the single group of institutions that can ultimately keep our democracy from an untimely and unwarranted demise. We will not let anything cloud our focus or deter us from living up to the Morgan State motto: “Growing the Future and Leading the World.”
David Wilson is president of Morgan State University, in Baltimore, Maryland. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.