POUGHKEEPSIE - The history runs deep for historically black colleges.
In order to carry the "historically black label," a college or university has to have been established before 1964. Presently, just over 100 exist in this country. Thursday night, alumni and other representatives from many of those institutions filled the Poughkeepsie High School Cafeteria, providing, literature, answering questions, and offering possibilities of a unique higher education experience.
For the ninth year, Poughkeepsie High School provided the stage for the Annual Black College Fair. Students from throughout the Hudson Valley were invited to the special evening that included colleges and universities from a host of different states. Carmen McGill, the Admissions Officer at Dutchess Community College, was once again the chief coordinator of the Fair.
"Most black schools do not have a budget to recruit in smaller venues, so we wanted to make sure our kids know there are historically black colleges," said McGill. "This way they will be able to make choices, as they learn about different parts of their culture.
One of those very students who could be seen checking out the programs at several schools, as she chatted with alumni representatives, was Poughkeepsie High School Junior, Brittany Francis. Although Francis is pretty definite on selecting a law major in college, she is keeping her options open.
"I want to explore different ideas of what I can do," said Francis, who has attended several college fairs. "I really like to see what’s out there, and I learn something new every time I go to one of these fairs."
One thing Francis mined from her recent Black College Fair was Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was the first African-American college in the north, and it was founded by Quakers. A representative from Cheyney was on hand at the Fair Thursday night. Margaret White, a 1963 Cheyney graduate, could be seen eagerly chatting with students throughout the night.
"I think the advantages of going to a historically black college are you get to see others like yourself in high positions, whether it be a college professor or president of the college," said White. "Also you make lifetime friendships; I met my husband at Lincoln University; there are just so many possibilities for social connections, and the professors are not just teachers, but mentors for life."
Another college present, Prairie View A & M University in Texas, carries some distinctive history as well. Established in 1876, right after slavery was abolished, Prairie View is one of the older historically black colleges that exist. Bascom Durham, a 1973 Prairie View graduate and United States Army Second Lieutenant, was representing his alma mata. Like many others, he could not have been more grateful for his black college experience.
"Going to Prairie View gave me the inspiration to set and accomplish any goal I wanted to," said Durham. "I saw people like myself were setting high goals, and it showed me I could as well."
For some, that goal setting is beginning as young as freshman year. Shannon Byrd, a freshman at Poughkeepsie High School, was at the Fair with her grandmother, Tanya Dickens.
"I came for Open House tonight, and then saw this Fair, and was really excited because it is motivating her for her future," said Dickens. "I really want her to build communication skills and confidence and this is a great way to accomplish those things."
Some of the other colleges at the Fair included; Hampton University of Virginia, Grambling State University in Louisiana, Howard University in Washington, DC, Alcorn State University in Missouri and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.