By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In an effort to increase the relevancy of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) redesigned one of its signature programs to cultivate Black industry leaders at the corporate level.
Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of TMCF, a HBCU membership group focused on increasing access, retention and graduation rates of students and creating a pipeline of high-qualified graduates for employers, said that the group got off base with its leadership program.
“We kept getting people entry-level jobs,” said Taylor. “We were getting people that could get in and work as an analyst at Wells Fargo instead of looking for that kid that showed the potential to become a CEO or a president of a division or a senior vice president of Wells Fargo.”
According to research conducted by Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., though Blacks account for more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, only 6.8 percent of board members of Fortune 500 companies are Black.
DiversityInc, a publication that advocates for corporate and workplace diversity, reported that “there are six Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 1.2 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.”
Taylor continued: “I can give you a 100 people to go work in your call center, then, ‘Bam!’ your numbers, say ‘I got a hundred more Black people,’ but that doesn’t solve the problem.”
Taylor said that The Leadership Institute, at its core, is serious about identifying HBCU students who have the ability to be leaders in major corporation.
Utilizing assessment tools developed by The Gallup Organization, a polling and survey research firm, and conducting one-on-one in-person interviews, TMCF identified students that “have the skills, the mindset, the tenacity to be successful in large organizations on leadership tracts,” said Taylor. “And if we start doing what we should be doing and identifying them and grooming them and introducing them to companies like MillerCoors and to other major corporations, 20 years from now these people will be running organizations and no one will be able to question whether or not HBCUs need to exist.”
Recently, TMCF hosted nearly 500 student scholars at the Leadership Institute’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Students attended workshops and sessions on financial literacy, diversity and inclusion, personal leadership branding and career readiness. Students also got the opportunity to network and interview with corporate executives from top companies such as Walmart, MillerCoors, Shell Oil Company, John Deere, Boeing and Microsoft Corporation. Federal agencies – including the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – were also on hand to share information with and recruit students.
Joshua Lee, a senior bachelor’s of science biomedical engineering major at North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro, N.C. and a TMCF scholarship recipient, said that he’s learning how to engage with other young leaders, not just from social aspect, but from career-driven and peer-to-peer mentoring as well.
“When you hang around leaders, you get to share ideas, you get encouragement you get the push that you need,” said Lee.
Cherish Liles, a senior psychology major at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, was encouraged by hearing a student scholar detail plans for becoming a U.S. Senator by 2035.
“It really pushed me to be more goal-orientated. I want to get on that level,” said Liles. “It’s motivating, but intimidating at the same time.”
Lee said that it costs more than $20,000 a year to attend North Carolina A & T and that the TMCF provides about $6,200 per year. Lee also works and gets help from his parents and other financial aid to pay for school.
“The [Thurgood Marshall College Fund] has always pulled through,” said Lee, adding that without the TMCF scholarship, he would never have been able to finish college. “I can honestly say that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m still in school.”
The Forestville, Md., native who also started a campus ministry, credits TMCF for teaching students that leadership and giving back to the community, especially HBCUs, go hand and hand.
“Get a good job and start your career when you get opportunities, go back, say ‘thank you,’” said Lee. “This is what TMCF has taught and is teaching the students. Once you graduate and once you make it and get your job, once you get to whenever you want to go in life, don’t forget where you came from, take time to give back to the community that gave to you.”
Taylor said that there is no reason why all HBCUs shouldn’t have serious endowments, given the number of graduates that they have produced over the years.
“If it weren’t for that HBCU, you wouldn’t be a schoolteacher and instead of making $40,000 a year, you might be making $20,000 a year, so you got to give something,” said Taylor. “All these people have cable, cell phones, cars, it’s all about priorities. I refuse to let the community off on this.”
Taylor said that when you look at spending power in the Black community, which the Nielsen Company estimated will top $1 trillion next year, there is enough money in the Black community to solve the HBCU problem.
“There would be no Thurgood Marshall and therefore no Brown v. the Board of Education, if there was no Lincoln University and no Howard University to educate Thurgood Marshall,” Taylor said, referring to HBCUs. “So you are reaping all of the benefits of what the HBCUs produced and now you think because you went to Harvard that this doesn’t matter to you.”
Taylor said that when you look at spending power in the Black community, which the Nielsen Company estimated will top $1 trillion, there is enough money in the Black community to solve the HBCU problem.
Joshua Smith, the chairman and managing partner at the Coaching Group, LLC and a Central State University alumnus, received the “HBCU Alumnus of the Year Award” at the recent 26th Annual TMCF Awards Gala. Smith contributed $1 million dollars to his alma mater.
Smith said that he was dismayed when he learned that financial support from HBCU alumni is “woefully lacking” and “dangerously disappointing” and that some alumni have strong feelings of entitlement and negative attitudes about their college experiences.
“Central State University was my family and what I became and what I am today is a direct result of those challenging, but constructive and supportive years there,” said Smith. “How can I possibly forget or have nothing but positive feelings about that critical phase of my life?”