The Importance of HBCU Global Travel and Exposure
The ethnic, religious, cultural, economic and yes, even racial diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities is often understated. The vastness of the black experience is seen by the regional representation of the students, faculty and alumni. Whether one represents the Memphis barbecue, or the creole of the Bayou, the tropical flavor of Miami, ingenuity of Detroit or the East Coast swagger, much is seen on the HBCU scene. All of this richness of flavor is sampled and savored in the classroom, on the quad and off-campus as well. For more excitement to this chocolate ice cream sundae are the toppings and sprinkles from the Caribbean, across Africa, the Middle East and yes even Europe and South America. The international presence is strong on campus. The “Mecca” attracts people from around the country and the world just like the actual city of Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Often times, American students have not had the travel exposure that many of the international students have. In the celebration of, and expression through Blackness, many of the students are not aware of how American their views are until the world comes to the campus and holds up a mirror.
It cannot be a one-way street where the world gets to glean the unique cultural benefits of Howard, or any HBCU, for its historic, life-changing and dynamic experience. The students from cities, farms, mountains and suburbs deserve to see the world themselves too. And we make it happen. Our students have volunteered with non-profit organizations while we take our trips abroad.
We’ve toured the slums of Mumbai, to not ogle the poor, but to observe industry clusters and micro-enterprises from pottery, to recycling centers, to the leather corridor that supplies brands like Timberland. More than 25% of our HBCU students were wearing brands that were produced in the “slums” of Mumbai and learned of the 25x mark-up. This was eye opening for the students to see and understand the possibility of enterprise and value. It was also important for students to see even in poor areas, there can be dignity, respect and even global influence. Certainly lessons that resonate close to home for some.
The HBCU connection makes the travel more fun, where our culture is known and appreciated wherever we go! While the focus of the trips is working on dedicated projects, the cultural exchange is vital as well. On South African TV, we gave Madiba “Get Well” wishes from the streets of Soweto. And we helped Black-owned companies with contracts in post-apartheid segregated industries. We took Bollywood dance lessons in Delhi and then combined it with hip-hop. But we also focused on the complexity of Ghandi’s belief system and yet his inspirational role to our liberator and HBCU grad, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We drove around streets of Havana in convertible classic cars and met with Cuban intellectuals on the evolving Cuban philosophy. The Dean of Howard University’s School of Business chose Cuba weeks after the US-Cuba diplomatic embargo was lifted. As a professor to MBA and JD/MBA candidates, we partnered with a Howard alum with business contacts in Havana. Within days of our arrival, we happily bumped into delegations from other HBCUs, namely Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta. My HBCU students and colleagues from the School of Business also have been to Brazil, UAE, China and soon Colombia to broaden horizons and affirm linkages.
It is well known that when HBCUs travel, we bring the style. The hair, the shoes, the trends, the ideas and even the walk! I make sure when we travel, that we stay in style. Many of the HBCU students may not have had the student hosteling experience in Milan, Mombasa or Manchu Picchu, so we elevate their experience to 5-star hotels, resorts and yes, safari lodges. It is important for HBCU students to know they belong, what to expect and what is expected of them. As a Global Strategist and Professor, if clients put me in the best hotels in the world, I want my students to experience the same.