Pitching black colleges to students

Ray Malone was a math tutor at New London High School in 1991 when he discovered a deficiency in the guidance department.

He was looking through the college catalogs to see if he could find North Carolina A&T, where he earned an engineering degree before taking a job here with what was then the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory. But there wasn't one.

"I looked for Grambling. They didn't have that one either," Malone said.

There were no catalogs to any of the schools recognized as historically black colleges.

Perhaps no one at the school thought it was necessary. Or perhaps they just didn't think.

In my day, the guidance department didn't do the best job it could have done steering minority students toward college in general. Despite having pretty good grades and holding leadership positions in the state Distributive Education Club, I don't recall anyone in the school instilling in me the expectation of higher education except my Distributive Education teacher, Diane Ross (now Diane Ross Gary, Ed.D.). A guidance counselor once suggested to me that I didn't have to set my goals so low as to consider enlisting in the Army. I was smart enough to go into the Air Force, he said.

So I did.

Ross, it should be should noted, is still pushing me. She was there for me last fall, when I returned to college. I should have listened to her the first time.

Malone, along with Rodney Myers, a friend who tutored at Norwich Free Academy who had noticed the same void, found a few like minds, discussed the matter, and decided to host a "Black College Awareness" cookout at Bates Woods.

"We had more than 100 kids," said Malone. "We passed out information and took it from there."

They formed an organization, the Historically Black College Alumni (HBCA). Malone is vice president of the group. As stated on its Web site, the group's goal was to promote higher education with an emphasis on historically black colleges and universities. It's most popular activity is the annual Black college tour conducted each year during April vacation.

The first tour left from the high school parking lot in the spring of 1992. On April 13, the HBCA will embark on its 18th annual trip, which has now grown to a five-day excursion.

The organization's president is Vouise Fonville, a supervisor with the state Department of Children and Families and a graduate of Winston-Salem State University. He said there are usually about 40 kids, mostly females in the past few years. The trip is open to all high school students, but mostly sophomores and juniors take advantage of the opportunity.

It's a little late for seniors, Fonville said, "but we do get some. We've even had some who registered while we're there."

Malone said seniors travel with a portfolio, which the two men and a few other volunteers help the students prepare.

Logically, the men pointed out, not every student is going to choose a historically black college to attend. One of the reasons for the tour is to allow the kids to get a feel for the environment and the colleges. The HBCA also sponsors a college night at the Science and Technology Magnet School featuring local area and state colleges.

This year's tour takes in colleges in the Maryland and Virginia area, including Howard University in Washington, D.C., Morgan State, Coppin State and Bowie State universities in Maryland along with Hampton University and Norfolk State University in Virginia. The visits are packed tight in the five-day jaunt, but there is some leisure activity to be had.

The kids get a little mall time, sometimes a cultural-awareness tour of the Washington, D.C., area and a visit to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

"The bus is only half-filled right now," Fonville said. "There's still time to register."

The trip costs each student $285, with some costs offset by grants, scholarships and public and private donations. Applications and information are available on the Web at www.hbca-nl.com.

Being an African-American is not a requirement to make the trip. Being serious about one's future is mandatory.

This is the opinion of Chuck Potter.

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