HBCU Week: Investing in the Future of Black Students

HBCU Week Foundation is an organization set up to encourage high-school aged youth to enroll into HBCUs, provide scholarships for matriculation and sustain a pipeline for employment from undergraduate school to corporate America. Since HBCU Week started in 2017, more than 2,000 on-the-spot college acceptances have been given to students, and over $5M in scholarships awarded. Founder and CEO Ashley Christopher recently spoke to Ketchum about the great work the foundation is doing to help Black and Brown students and how people can get involved.


The Purpose of HBCU Week
“Our focus is on wrapping our arms around high school aged youth and exposing them to the opportunities that come from attending an HBCU. HBCU Week offers students the chance to experience a homecoming-type experience similar to what they would receive when attending an HBCU. Multiple events, such as a church service and battle of the bands, take place before culminating with a college fair. The fair is unique because most of the HBCUs in attendance offer on the spot acceptance, so if you’re a graduating senior with the requisite SAT or ACT score and transcript, you could be accepted into an HBCU on the spot — and even receive a scholarship award.”

Why Black and Brown Students Should Consider an HBCU
“The exact value of attending an HBCU is hard to put into words in terms of the impact it can have on Black students. I tell people all the time that I had my entire life to be a minority but HBCUs give you the space to fully learn about, digest and embrace your culture without code switching or the worry of whether or not you’d be accepted. It’s the only time as a Black person that you’ll spend four years surrounded by people who look like you and share the same goals, drive and ambition. HBCUs represent Black Excellence. To have that type of energy around you while you’re studying is something I find very difficult to believe you could get as a Black student attending a predominantly white institution.”

Having Pride in the History of HBCUs
“We have to remember that HBCUs were founded in response to legalized segregation. Black students were prohibited by law from matriculating into higher education institutions that were predominantly white. In response to that we had to build our own schools, in church basements and anywhere we could find a safe space to learn. I think the pride we have in knowing our ancestors paved the way so we would have the opportunity to engage in higher education is something that is unmatched.”

The New HBCU Week Virtual Experience
“COVID-19 has changed HBCU Week significantly as obviously we are no longer able to do a live event in the interest of everyone’s safety. Instead we will be 100% virtual this year. However, the blessing in disguise is that because we are virtual, we can reach kids all over the country now much earlier than we had thought possible. Currently, we have students signed up from 15 states and over 40 HBCUs confirmed to attend the fair. We have panels and lunch-and-learns, such as one with the NFL, as well as the college fair, so the kids will be able to engage with all the events electronically and still be able to explore their HBCU options as well as potentially receiving instant acceptance to an institution and scholarship dollars. The platform is really cool, easy to navigate and interactive so I think they will get a lot out of the event.”

How Corporate Partners Are Making a Difference to Black Students through HBCU Week…
“One of the most rewarding moments since starting HBCU Week and the foundation was securing the Chemours scholarship. The Chemours company is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, and they immediately noticed how impactful the HBCU Week event was and how promising it could be. We talked to them about what we were doing, and they jumped on board with a commitment to provide scholarship dollars. So, through HBCU Week we now have The Future of Chemistry scholarship, with the Chemours company making a $2.4million commitment of $40K scholarships for students that attend the HBCU Week college fair, commit to an HBCU and declare a STEM major. Forty thousand dollars puts a huge dent in the cost of education and can truly change a student’s life both in getting to, their experience of, and a life after college. Right now we have five scholars at North Carolina A&T, two at Howard and one at Delaware State and they are all thriving.”

And Why More Corporate Partners Should Consider Helping to make real change in racial inequality…
“When you talk about inequality between Blacks and whites, the wealth gap comes up very quickly. I believe that a lack of educational opportunities contributes hugely to the wealth gap divide. Black students quite frequently can’t afford to pay for school like many of their white counterparts can, leaving them in significant debt post-college. The more we can send kids to school and alleviate student debt, the more we will be able to get them a head start on making money and sustaining their families rather than being on the back foot. If we’re able to continue to get support from organizations, like the Chemours Company, to help to send these kids to school by financing part of the cost, then we would be making big inroads into lessening the wealth gap and helping end racial inequality”

Looking to the Future for HBCU Week…
“In five years, I want HBCU Week to be as equally known and recognizable as the Super Bowl. I want this organization to be the lead in HBCU advocacy and discussions, and to be the go-to for students looking to learn firsthand about HBCUs and what they have to offer. I want significant scholarship opportunities for every area of study so that all industries see an increase in the number of Black and Brown students entering their field. I want to grow so more students can come to HBCU Week and can experience it as one-stop-shop and get everything they need for a successful college experience.”

For more information about HBCU Week, to sign up to the virtual event or to get in touch about corporate partnership opportunities, please visit HBCUWeek.org.

Ketchum is a pro bono partner of HBCU Week Foundation.

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