Stand With Bennett: Jussie & Jake Smollett Join Fight To Save HBCU From Losing Accreditation

It was recently announced that because of declining enrollment and years of budget deficits, Bennett College could lose its accreditation soon. According to Greensboro News & Record, the North Carolina all women’s HBCU learned that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges had voted to end the college’s accreditation. They’ve given Bennett, who has been on accreditation probation since 2016, until February 1st to prove its financial stability to which college leaders hope to raise $5 million by the deadline.

“We are still relevant and needed,” Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins tells reporters. “We will fight for our accreditation and our survival.”

Joining the fight to help save Bennett College from losing its accreditation and possibly closing its doors is actor Jussie Smollett and his brother and culinarian Jake Smollett. The two took to Instagram to post a photo wearing black T-shirts that read “Stand With Bennett.”

“At our peak, in the 1930s, we had 121 HBCUs, now we’re down to 101,” Jussie’s caption reads. “Don’t let us be down to 100 if Bennett College, an institution who has made the education of black women a priority since 1926, closes its doors. We must continue the legacy of #BennettCollege.”

Schools that lose accreditation will no longer be eligible to receive federal and state financial aid. Institutions that lose accreditation often close because grants and loans are a significant source of funding for many schools.

Also standing with Bennett College is the UNCF (United Negro College Fund), who released a statement acknowledging the school’s improvement since being placed on probation and says this should serve as a testament.

“The fact that Bennett College has made significant improvements since being placed on accreditation probation two years ago is a testament to this institution’s willingness and diligence to do everything it can to meet the standards set forth by its accrediting body and to ensure its students receive well-needed federal financial aid,” UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomax said in a statement. “Bennett College has always maintained a mission-centric culture, driven by the pursuit of academic excellence and providing its students with the best education possible. And we stand with them.”

To join the fight to help save Bennett College, donate here.

Sybrina Fulton Receives Honorary Doctorate From HBCU & Key To City of Columbia

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Over the weekend, Benedict College and the City of Columbia awarded Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, with an honorary doctorate and a Key to the City. Fulton served as the commencement speaker at the Benedict College Winter Commencement Convocation where she received the Doctor of Humane Letters by the institution. South Carolina mayor Steven Keith Benjamin also awarded the mother and social activist with a Key to the City.

“Sybrina is a model of grace and strength,” said Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President and CEO of Benedict College. “Because of her passion and dedication, ‘we are all Trayvon’ and demand social justice for our sons.”

Since the tragic and untimely death of her then 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton has been advocating for social justice and bringing awareness to the need for gun control. In 2012, Sybrina and Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin established the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which houses programs such as Circle of Mothers, which was created to bring together mothers who have lost children or family members to senseless gun violence for the purpose of healing, empowerment, and fellowship towards the larger aim of community building. There is also the STEM Education program in which The Trayvon Martin Foundation partnered with Miami Dade College to provide local students with scholarships to attend STEM Camp. There they will learn about Robotics, Coding & Drones.

Through Fulton’s social activism, she has been able to turn a negative into a positive by transforming a family tragedy into a social change says Benedict College.

Unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in February 2012 at the hands of George Zimmerman, who was later found not guilty. It was a story that rocked the country and sparked a national debate regarding gun control and racial profiling.

Oprah’s Leadership Academy For Girls Recognizes Seventh Graduating Class

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Over 20 years ago the now 64-year-old invested $40 million of her own money along with her time and energy establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. ESSENCE reports that the school recently recognized its seventh graduating class that included 58 young women. The graduation ceremony took place on December 1 with filmmaker Tyler Perry delivering the commencement address.

Perry spoke about Winfrey’s mission to develop and support leaders and change makers:

“Before the ceremony this morning, I spoke to Ms. Winfrey and asked her how she chose the girls.”

“She said she looks for something special, something that sparkles and is unique. Today that is all I saw.”

“I saw all the hope, brilliance and intelligence. Being the chosen one is special and wonderful. It gives you the opportunity to strive and go higher and do things that you would have not had the chance to do.”

Several students were recognized for their exceptional achievements including Nicolle Naidoo who received the award for Top Academic Achiever of 2018. Lethukukhanya Mbambo was the winner of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Award, an honor bestowed, “to a student that epitomises leadership, caring, and generosity of spirit.”

Khensani Hlaise, the academy’s 2018 Class Representative shared that the school truly makes the difference in the lives the young women picture for themselves:

“It is such an honor and privilege to exist in a space where you can become more than you were yesterday.”

“For my sisters and I, this journey has been of becoming more of ourselves, it has been about uncovering and discovering, a journey of shedding our fears and becoming who we truly have always been. We are all here because of a dream that Mum O had.”

The academy is a result of a promise Winfrey made to former president Nelson Mandela in 2002.  Winfrey also teaches a class at the school via satellite. The school which was built over 22 acres features state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories, a library, theatre, and a beauty salon and was once criticized for being elitist, to which Winfrey replied:

“If you are surrounded by beautiful things and wonderful teachers who inspire you, that beauty brings out the beauty in you.”

Congratulations to the class of 2018 and we look forward to seeing generations of leaders in many classes to come.

Cast of ‘A Different World’ Presented This HBCU With $100k Scholarship By Ford

A small college in Terrell, Texas was announced as the grand prize winner of Ford’s Ultimate Homecoming Takeover. Southwestern Christian College (SWCC), a campus of just 125 students, beat out other HBCUs across the country and received a $100,000 scholarship donation presented by the stars of the iconic television show A Different World!

According to Ebony, Ford’s Drive 2 Greatness contest served as a forum to spotlight the company’s commitment to higher education and the growth of African-American students and HBCUs. During the homecoming festivities, attendees were able to test drive F-150 XLT and Limited Ford models. For each test drive, Ford donated $20 to the Tom Joyner Foundation to help support HBCUs.

A Different World‘s Jasmine Guy (Whitley), Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne), Cree Summer (Freddie) and Darryl Bell (Ron) along with Ford’s Multicultural Communications Manager, Dee Guerrero, proudly awarded the grand prize scholarship to SWCC Chairman of the Board Dr. John Dansby. They even participated in a panel discussion about the importance of HBCUs and the impact the show had on black culture.

“It’s imperative that we know our history and that we teach our history,” Jasmine Guy, who plays southern belle Whitley Gilbert, tells xoNecole. “I don’t think we can afford to wait for other people to teach us our history. I know that HBCUs will focus on not just the American story about the African Americans and Native American story and the truth about how this country was founded and why things are the way they are and why we’re still fighting for certain things. If we’re ignorant of where we came from, we’re not going to be able to grow.”

Guy also spoke about the show’s diversity and how each character pretty much represents different parts of being Black.

“I loved the diversity of the cast,” she says. “It’s very hard to represent everything about Black people in one person. We had different classes, different colorings, different backgrounds, different aspirations and that’s one thing I loved about A Different World. It showed the true spirit about what being Black is, and that it is diverse within itself.”

Darryl Bell also noted that the different generations on the show provided a different point of view for each topic.

“What was also great was that you saw different generations,” he said. “From the youngsters [characters] like Bumper Robinson [and] Patrick Malone, all the way to [actors] Glynn Turman, [who played Col. Taylor] and Lou Myers, who played Mr. Gaines, there was always a different point of view. So no matter what topic was discussed, it wasn’t a monolithic response; it was something that was always challenging and relevant, it was important and we managed to be funny while we did it! That’s why I think it lasted so long and stayed evergreen.”

Paisley Park Bringing Music-Education Opportunities To Students of Minneapolis Public Schools

Continuing to inspire the next generation of young musicians through his legacy, Prince’s Paisley Park will be partnering with Minneapolis Public Schools to allow students free access to the private estate as well as music-education opportunities.

Following his untimely death in 2016, the Chanhassen property was turned into a museum. According to the Official Paisley Park website, it provides fans with the unprecedented opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like for Prince to create, produce and perform inside this private sanctuary and remarkable production complex. The program will start with the Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource (FAIR) school downtown.

Although no other details have been announced regarding the partnership, Minneapolis schools superintendent Ed Graff released a statement saying:

“As an avid Prince fan and a strong proponent of arts education, I am excited for Minneapolis students to benefit from this partnership with Paisley Park. It’s fitting that this wonderful opportunity is starting with the FAIR School, which is a magnet high school in downtown where the arts are integrated in all academic areas.”

According to Star Tribune, Prince was a graduate of Minneapolis Central High School and was a strong advocate for education, especially in the arts. Prince donated to various schools around the country, including Harvest Prep and Seed Academy in Minneapolis, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. and Marva Collins Preparatory in Chicago.

NYU School of Medicine Grants Free Tuition To Its Students

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New York University School of Medicine has announced that full-tuition scholarships will be granted to all current and future students in its MD degree program, regardless of merit or financial need.

Yes, you read that right — free tuition for all NYU medical students. Well, as long as each student maintains satisfactory academic progress in accordance with the NYU School of Medicine’s Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy.

Reportedly, this decision came about following the administration’s concerns regarding “overwhelming financial debt.” According to a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges, about 75% of medical students across the country graduated with debt in 2017 and owed an average amount of $191,000.

“The debt can scare people away,” says Rafael Rivera, associate dean for admissions and financial aid. “One of those individuals could be the one to find a cure for cancer. For us, it’s important to have the best applicant pool possible and society deserves nothing less.”

Students will still have to cover room and board, as well as other living expenses. NYU students can choose between the traditional four-year MD program or an accelerated three-year degree.

Kevin Hart Helps Provide Scholarships To 18 HBCU Students

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Kevin Hart has partnered with KIPP Public Schools and the United Negro College Fund to provide scholarships to 18 students from around the country to attend historically black colleges and universities.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a non-profit network of 224 college-preparatory, public charter schools educating early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school students. Both KIPP and Kevin Hart’s “Help From The Hart Charity” donated $300,000 each in scholarships administered by the fund.

A total of 18 students from states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C. were chosen for the scholarships based on academic and personal accomplishments and all attended KIPP schools.

The recipients will be attending 11 different colleges across the country.

12-Year-Old Sidney Keys III Joins Fashion Company’s Kids Board of Directors

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It was in November 2017 that 12-year-old Sidney Keys III launched a book club for young black boys called Books N’ Bros. The organization was created to help evolve the literacy rate amongst Sidney’s peers and to underline making reading a fun activity. It appears that his passion for change and entrepreneurial mindset is paying off because the St. Louis native has his hands in yet another major project.

Sidney Keys III has been selected to join the Kids Board of Directors for New York City-based fashion company KIDBOX. He will join 12 other young entrepreneurs in providing feedback on back-to-school fall and winter kids’ fashion using their expertise and experience.

“What excites me most is being able to make an even bigger change in my community with KIDBOX,” Sidney told Blavity. “I am excited to bring awareness of KIDBOX to boys who look like me and for kids in general in my community that can hopefully benefit from KIDBOX and have access to quality clothing.”

Sidney is able to maintain his book club and his position on KIDBOX’s Kids Board of Directors with help and inspiration from his mother, Winnie Elizabeth. “I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without her,” Keys said.

Congratulations Sidney from us here at Live Civil!

FAMU Just Named Its First Ever Female Drum Major

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For the first time in its history, one HBCU is bringing some girl power to the head of their band.

According to HBCU GameDay, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) has named Cori Bostic, a junior in FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, as the first female drum major of its The Marching 100 band.

Bostic hails from Atlanta and is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta. 

According to The Shadow League, The Marching 100 is not only an internationally known band but has performed at major events such as the Super Bowl, WrestleMania and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades.

Congrats to Cori!

All-Black Atlanta Debate Team Nails A Victory At Harvard

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At the age of 17, Jordan Thomas seems too young to carry the burden of his race on his broad shoulders. But when he traded football for the debate team and made his way to Harvard University, he tackled a long-standing stigma.

Earlier this month, the Grady High School senior won the university’s prestigious summer debate tournament hosted by the Harvard Debate Council, beating close to 400 other debaters from around the world.

Thomas was one of 25 Atlanta students – all black — to make up a local team of Atlanta high school students put together by Harvard’s assistant debate coach, Brandon Fleming.

“Just to go on to Harvard’s campus and beat everyone who doubted me was amazing,” said Thomas, a senior at Grady High School in Atlanta. “There was stigma because there was an assumption that we were only there because we were black or just because this program was created. The stigma of being young, black kids from the South. It seems like we were being written off by a lot of people.”Not Fleming, who recruited from Atlanta high schools like a football coach plucking out talent to participate in his Atlanta-based Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project. He uses the project as a pipeline to recruit, training and feed students of color into the Ivy League school’s summer program on full scholarships.

“I noticed the lack of African-American representation at the summer residency and I wanted to do something about it,” said Fleming, a former Ron Clark Academy teacher who commutes back to Cambridge from Atlanta monthly. “The model of our organization is changing narrative. We want to show them what black excellence looks like when scholarship meets culture.”

Up to 400 students from around the world compete in the tournament, where students prepare on site with a daily 10-hour academic regimen, learning from highly accomplished debate professors and instructors who engage them through rigorous curricula centered on research, analysis, argumentation and political science.

“There was this feeling of pressure. Not only disproving the stigma around African-American children and their intelligence, but also this pressure of being the first,” said Payton Gunner, a 15-year-old junior at Drew Charter. “We had to make footprints that people could follow.”

In a nod to the past, the team calls themselves “The Great Debaters,” in honor of the great Wiley College debate teams that broke convention in the 1920s and 1930s to compete with and beat white debate teams as an HBCU.


“Our kids dominated the competition,” said Fleming, adding that more than 150 students tried out for the team with 25 making it from 16 different metro Atlanta high schools. “I was looking for leadership, high academic performance and passion. As you look around the country in leadership positions, many leaders participated in speech and debate. That is a trend we can’t ignore. We want to address this national trend of African-Americans not being recognized in positions of power.”

Limited access keeps black numbers down 

That might continue to be a challenge. Despite the success of the movie and the sudden emergence of the Atlanta students, the numbers of black kids in debate are still shockingly low.

Herman Felton, the president of Wiley College, points to a 2004 study published in the “Journal of the American Forensics Association,” showing that African-Americans participated in only seven percent of activities classified as debate. 

“Communications and debate are not things that are pushed nationwide in elementary schools, high schools and even college,” said Felton, adding that simple spaces like civic clubs are not readily available for minorities to hone the craft of debate and public speaking. 

For more than 70 years, Wiley College – whose debate team is still called “The Great Debaters” – has stressed the art of debate.

This past March, to address the lack of diversity issue, the school helped create the HBCU Debate League and hosted 24 HBCU debate clubs on campus for the first of its kind tournament. 

“Melvin Tolson started something that we have continued to improve on,” said Felton, of the legendary debate coach portrayed by Denzel Washington in the film. “But even more critically, America has evolved into its current state because lack of communications. Debate provides simple tools proving that we can be disagreeable and still agree, while respecting one’s value points.”


Universities Collectively Disregard Trump’s Command To Reverse Obama-Era Affirmative Action Guidelines

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Earlier this month, it was announced that the Trump administration decided to reverse Obama’s policy on affirmative action, which encouraged universities to consider race as a factor during the admissions process. However, several universities have made a conscious decision to stick with the affirmative action policy set in place by Obama, despite the recent announcement.

Several top universities, including five Ivy league institutions, say they plan to continue factoring race in admissions to promote and bolster diversity. By going against the new Trump administration guidelines, the schools could face consequences, which includes losing federal funding from the Department of Education, federal lawsuits, and federal investigations.

One of the schools in support of Obama’s affirmative action is Harvard University. Despite being in the middle of a lawsuit accusing the school of discriminating against Asian American applicants in favor of other minorities, Harvard issued a statement saying “Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years.”

Also referring to the Supreme Court’s past ruling on integration, Dartmouth says “Affirmative action is a proven method of promoting diversity on our campus and is supported by decades of American case law. Over the past 40 years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly defended the right of colleges and universities to invoke diversity as a compelling educational interest supporting the consideration of race as one of many factors during a holistic admissions process.”

Using diversity as a way to prepare students to thrive in a “complex and changing world,” Brown University also released a statement that they too will continue to use race-conscious admission practices. “Through our race-conscious admission practices, Brown assembles the diverse range of perspectives and experiences essential for a learning and research community that prepares students to thrive in a complex and changing world,” they said.

College of William and Mary, Rice University, Emory University, Tufts University and Middlebury College will join Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth in their decision to use race as an admissions factor. According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York schools will also follow suit. In a letter to SUNY and CUNY trustees, he wrote, “The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY’s and CUNY’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body.”

“We will continue to work together to dismantle barriers to social and economic mobility and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all New Yorkers.”

Tamar Braxton Teaches A Lesson About Staying True To Ourselves By Opening Up About Her Struggle With Dysmorphia

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Most of us hate at least one thing about our bodies. It could be our nose, weight, butt, or boobs, but somewhere down the line, we have all struggled with body image. Especially in todays social media driven world where we are constantly being fed with images of what society feels we should look like. I’ve listened to plus size women complain and strategize on ways to loose weight and I’ve also witnessed slimmer women try different protein regiments in hopes of gaining weight. While it can be hard opening up about body image issues, during a trip to her parents house singer Tamar Braxton found a photo of herself from 1996 when her and her sisters Trina and Towanda Braxton shot the “ So Many Ways” video shoot she opens up about her struggles with her body because she was told she was too fat.

In an Instagram post she writes,

I still struggle with body dysmorphia to this day all because a record executive told me I was too fat at 11 to be more of a commercial artist only to end up having big R&B hits today. Which was fine with me cause that’s how I saw myself then in the first place. Tamar then goes on to say that she and her sister started to have problems because WeTV wanted “The Braxton’s Family Values” to have higher ratings than older episodes from the “Love & Hip Hop” Franchise. “The same thing goes for me and my sisters, we started having major over the top family issues because some network wanted to compete with old love and hip hop numbers and felt that our family was too perfect and unrelatable.

The lesson we can take from Tamar’s story teaches us to stay true to yourself. Most times we try to confirm to others opinions of us not realizing that being ourselves is the key that would open up what doors are meant for us. Today The “Braxton Family Values” is the biggest show on WE Network and it also is the longest running black family reality show. Tamar’s “Love & War” album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Top R&B Hip-Hop Albums chart, she and her husband landed their own spin off “Tamar &Vince” and her most recent album “Bluebird of Happiness” was released through her husbands record label, Logan Land Records and Entertainment One.