Reflecting on Higher Ed’s Role in America’s Fight for Equality and Racial Justice

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Author Bacari K. Brown

Heading into last week’s inaugural convening of the Dr. N. Joyce Payne Center for Social Justice, I felt a mixture of emotions. Pride, optimism, inspiration, along with a little angst.

The ambitious agenda resembled our nation’s to-do list in the fight for equality and racial justice: health equity, educational justice, equal funding for HBCU’s, voting rights, and so much more. It felt overwhelming and, at the same the time, fitting for the leaders and organizations who gathered for the event.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) created The Payne Center to serve as “a nexus in advancing social justice for Black Americans” – with HBCUs at the center. As a think tank and research center, its mission is to “identify, evaluate and scale new evidence-based programs and policies designed to create sustainable change to the fabric of Black life in American society.”

We were also there to honor Dr. N. Joyce Payne, who founded TMCF in 1987. Since its founding, TMFC has raised over $300 million to benefit the nation’s 47 publicly supported HBCUs and PBIs. Over 300,000 students per year are impacted directly by these efforts, including advancing equity through the “Excellence in Online Instruction” initiative launched in 2021. Through the initiative, TMCF and ACUE have equipped hundreds of faculty at HBCUs and PBIs with innovative, evidence-based practices – to the benefit of thousands of students.

In his remarks, Rev. William Barber II reminded us that our work is far from done. He made that soberingly clear, highlighting how we have gone backward in so many ways. For each milestone or landmark achievement, he said, there are systemic and institutional barriers that continue to sideline too many Black Americans.Photos from the Payne Center inaugural convening, including pictures of featured speakers and the author posing with N. Joyce Payne

Attending the event left me with a new sense of pride in ACUE’s mission to advance equity through quality instruction. For me, what resonated most from the Reverend’s remarks was his call to remain optimistic and proactive in the face of these challenges. Education can be transformational, and colleges and universities have a critical role to play in truly moving our country forward. But living up to the promise of higher education means providing all students with access to exceptional teaching and learning experiences. It will take work, but I am proud and hopeful to have thoughtful, committed higher ed leaders like TMCF leading the way.

Bacari K. Brown is a Partner Development Director at ACUE.

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