Area students embark on tour of historically black colleges

New London — It was 28 years ago when Ray Malone noticed, while tutoring math at New London High School, that the school’s guidance department didn’t provide information about historically black colleges for its students.

“I was surprised to realize that,” said Malone, who is a retired electrical engineer and a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black college, or HBC for short. “So, I started seeing if they had a catalog for Howard University. They had to have Howard, I thought. But they didn’t. Then I looked for Tuskegee, and they didn’t have that. And then I realized they didn’t have one catalog about a black university at all.”

After learning that this was also the case at Norwich Free Academy, Malone said he knew then he needed to do something to promote historically black colleges and universities, “because they weren’t being promoted here,” he said.

So Malone, along with a handful of other HBC graduates, formed the Historically Black College Alumni of New London County group, or HBCA, in 1992.

Since then the group has spread the word about historically black colleges to hundreds of area high school students by sponsoring the annual spring break tour, providing college catalogs to guidance departments, helping students with the application process and awarding scholarships.

On Sunday morning, Malone, members of the HBCA and 40 students from southeastern Connecticut communities left New London High School on the group’s 27th tour.

The trips, Malone said, have provided more than a thousand students with the opportunity to explore historically black colleges and universities, helping students decide if and where they may want to go to college.

“It’s really been a success. Kids have enjoyed it and we’ve kept doing it,” Malone said. “We give them a taste for these colleges and the insight.”

“It opens their eyes,” he continued. “In this community, these kids don’t often get the opportunity to visit an HBC or university, or to see themselves, or students like themselves, in an educational environment.”

Malone said he and organizers accept most everyone who want to go on the trip.

“They don’t have to be serious about school. Part of the goal is that if they’re not serious about school, or if they don’t know what they want to do, we still want to motivate them,” Malone said.

Before the students return home Friday, they will visit Howard University, Morgan State University, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Shaw University and the University of North Carolina. Students will also have the chance to visit museums and sites highlighting black culture and history.

“We miss so much of our black history in school, and it’s so important to reach out to teach our students about that,” said Gloria Dover, one of the group's founding members. “It’s important that we come together, for them to travel and see where they come from. Those colleges really do play such an important role for African-American youth, and we want them to know what their ancestors have created for them.”

Before going on the trip, students were required to fill out an application and attend several information sessions introducing them to the financial aid and college application process. They also were required to attend presentations from several area colleges and universities, to learn about those schools, as well.

“Even though the majority of our students do end up going to Southern Connecticut State University, we still want to show these kids what else is out there — that there is a range of opportunities for them to pursue as they enter into college life,” said Vouise “Vice” Fonville, president of the HBCA.

Fonville, of Norwich, is also a member of the Norwich NAACP and a graduate of Winston-Salem State University and said many students who attend these trips often attend a historically black college.

Saying goodbye Sunday to her daughter Zeniyah Britt, a 15-year-old sophomore who attends Norwich Technical High School, was Jocelyn Williams of Griswold. Williams said that as a high school student in the mid-’90s she, too, went on the HBC tour before attending Morris Brown College in Atlanta.

“We were able to walk on the campus, visit admissions and basically see the college life back then, so I wanted my daughter to experience that as well,” Williams said, explaining that Britt would like to study nursing. “She hasn’t really seen too much, and I think this will be a good opportunity for her to see the college life, the seriousness of it and to start making decisions.”

Alex Dufort, a 17-year-old junior who attends Norwich Free Academy, said he already knows he would like to be a lawyer. He hoped the trip would allow him to explore, among others, North Carolina A&T, as well as Howard University — two schools he is interested attending.

For Yolande White, mother of 15-year-old Waterford High School student Keyon Burgher, the trip was chance for her son to simply see what college life is about. She said he plans to go on the trip again next year to possibly finalize a decision.

“I’m just glad he wants to do something productive with his spring break and not sleep in every day,” White said, laughing. “And who knows, maybe he will come back and he might know what he wants to do. His mind might be set.”

Those interested in supporting future tours or sponsoring students are asked to write to Historically Black College Alumni at P.O. Box 1385, New London, or to call Vouise “Vice” Fonville at (860) 460-4129.

m.biekert@theday.com

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