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A New Generation at America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Rev. George Walker, a member of President Obama’s Advisory Board for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, discusses the progress that has been made in making colleges and universities more inclusive.

As a member of President Obama’s Advisory Board for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), I find LGBT Pride Month to be a unique opportunity to consider the intersection of my various identities and reflect upon my personal journey.

As an African American raised in the South, where the majority of the 105 HBCUs exist, I intimately understand the role these institutions play shaping civic life and educating a cadre of leaders that go on to change the world.  When it was time for me to select a college, I had options among some of the most prestigious schools in the country, and, fortunately, my parents supported my choice to attend Morehouse College.  While in college, I thrived.  I had a rich experience festooned with accolades and honors that declared me a Morehouse Man.  I had 19 line brothers who pledged a fraternity with me, and dear soul brothers who are as close as many blood relations.  And as an only child, going to all-male Morehouse truly amplified what brotherhood could look like.  We were a strong cohort of men dedicated to the notion that the next Martin Luther King, Jr. – or perhaps Spike Lee, or Samuel Jackson – could be among us.  That spirit of leadership is more powerful than any words on paper can describe.  It was a mission-driven instinct that produced a pride that many of us still talk about today.

I value so much of what Morehouse instilled in me about pride in achievement, the role of leadership, the place of spiritual renewal, and the love of humanity and service to goals that extend beyond ourselves.  And yet, as a young man, I wasn’t quite able to figure out that piece of me that was so intrinsic to all human beings - my sexual orientation.  As I reflect, of course, I know that times were different.  Morehouse wasn’t alone in not being adequately able to help gay students.  At that time, the overwhelming majority of colleges (not just HBCUs) didn’t have established culture centers or LGBT support networks. 

That’s why I am so proud of the progress that’s been made in the last twenty years.  Today, I hear from students that things are better for LGBT students at Morehouse and its sister schools in Atlanta.  Having met some of these student leaders, I also know that the call to rise and meet challenges is more inclusive than it was before.  I am proud and heartened by the growing demand for inclusivity at HBCUs and the courage of faculty and staff who are helping to ease the way into the future with confidence and a strong commitment to equality.

I am also proud of the steps that President Obama has taken to ensure that all voices are included in the discourse about the future of HBCUs.  As I consider the many ways that I can be an agent of change, one of the things I also know from my professional life is that to truly change the course of history, LGBT people and our allies need to be a part of conversations that involve us and our lives.  We need to be in boardrooms, civic centers, living rooms, places of worship, and every other place that people gather.

My favorite part of serving on the President’s Board of Advisors for HBCUs is walking around various college campuses and reflecting on who has walked before me.  I think of leaders who touched the grass or turned the doorknob that I now open.  I smile to think that as an openly gay leader those doors aren’t closed to me - or open just to the part of me that is African American or male - but the whole of me.   I feel confident that the opportunities for LGBT youth are only getting better and more numerous.  The doors are now open to a new generation that will continue to advance civil rights in ways I couldn’t have dreamed while I was a student at Morehouse.  That is a remarkable reality of which I am very proud.

Rev. George Walker is a Member of the President’s Advisory Board for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).