The first woman and the 13th president of Florida Memorial University, Roslyn Clark Artis, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at West Virginia State University. Both schools, Florida Memorial, a private institution now located in Miami Gardens, and West Virginia State, a public institution located in Institute, are designated by the U.S. Department of Education as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.
With a foundation of history, tradition, scholarship, vision and leadership President Artis has the opportunity to develop new recruitment, retention and graduation strategies for students at FMU. Established in 1879, FMU is one of the oldest academic centers in Florida, and South Florida’s only HBCU.
What is an HBCU? According to the U.S. Department of Education, HBCUs are schools that were established to serve the educational needs of black Americans who historically were excluded from other universities because of race. Public policy and certain statutory provisions prohibited the education of blacks in various parts of the nation. Before the Civil War and throughout the Jim Crow Era, some states maintained segregated educational systems — one for white students, and a lesser one for black students.
Communities throughout the South only provided classes up to eighth grade and later 10th grade for black children, who were then forced to drop out of school into the workforce or become idle. In Miami, beginning in early 1900, Dunbar Elementary and “Old Washington” (now Douglass Elementary) were grade schools. At Dunbar, each year a grade was added to the curriculum up to 10th grade. During this time, there were black parents, mothers working as washerwomen and fathers working as laborers, who wanted their children to receive the education they were denied. They sent children as young as 10 away to boarding schools. It was the only way they could earn a high school diploma.
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Most of the original schools, now HBCUs, offered the equivalent of high school, vocational training, and teacher preparation. Schools include Florida Memorial (formerly the Florida Baptist Academy) and Edward Waters in Jacksonville; Florida A&M in Tallahassee; Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach; Spelman, Clark, Morehouse and Morris Brown in Atlanta; West Virginia State; Wilberfoce in Ohio; Tuskegee and Talladega in Alabama; Hampton in Virginia; and St. Augustine, Raleigh, and Fisk in Nashville, to name a few.
Miami’s first school to provide a 12th-grade education for black youth was Booker T. Washington Junior and Senior High. It was built in 1926, or 30 years after Miami became a city. Students commuted from as far away as Key West and West Palm Beach. During the week they lived in Miami with friends or relatives and returned home on weekends. After graduating from Booker T., college-bound black students matriculated to HBCUs. Graduates from HBCU schools have made outstanding contributions to society in many fields — including education, science, law, business, medicine, the arts, and religion.
Times have changed. Once predominately black West Virginia State University (formerly West Virginia Colored Institute) transitioned into an integrated institution serving predominately white, commuting, and older students. According to the school’s official website, this change came as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision outlawing school segregation. Florida Memorial University (a consolidation of the Florida Baptist Institute in Live Oak, the Florida Baptist Academy in Jacksonville, and the Florida Normal Institute in St. Augustine) relocated to Miami in 1968. It is open to all students, but remains predominately black .
One hundred and thirty-five years after the founding of Florida Memorial University, at the 2014 Academic Symposium held in honor of her investiture, President Artis advised the auditorium of over 100 students that FMU is committed to the pursuit of excellence as it continues to educate students intellectually and spiritually. In return, she challenged students to seize opportunities and accept responsibility by preparing themselves to become global citizens through life-long learning, leadership, character, and service that will enhance their lives and the lives of others.
On an upcoming panel, FMU’s President Artis and three other Florida HBCU presidents, will discuss “The State of the Florida Black Colleges and Universities: A Pathway to Preeminence for Retention and Graduation.” President Elmira Mangum of Florida A&M, President Edison O. Jackson of Bethune-Cookman, and President Nathaniel Glover Jr. of Edward Waters College will lead the discussion. Joining them will be special guests Rosa Cintron, a researcher/lecturer from the University of Central Florida; John Michael Lee, vice president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities; and Thomas Joyner Jr., president and CEO of the Tom Joyner Foundation, who led the campaign that raised over $60 million for HBCUs. He will talk about community connectedness in advancing minority student success.
Amanda Wilkerson, a doctoral student and the summit organizer, will moderate this one-day event at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23, at Orlando’s Rosen Centre. Free and open to the public, it is scheduled with the 2014 Florida Blue Classic, the nation’s largest HBCU football rivalry between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.
The overarching question for the summit: How can HBCU’s increase relevance in today’s society? The panel discussion featuring Florida’s HBCU presidential and community leaders will discuss best practices for common concerns pertaining to the retention and graduation for the broader community.
A review of articles online in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education revealed best practices in governance, policies and programming are being implemented and others are planned. A number of HBCUs have partnerships with community colleges and other universities. Some have partnerships with big-box retail stores, and businesses. There are new degree programs and new and expanded facilities. One HBCU has a patent for an invention, and another an app for fingertip links to campus resources.
At FMU, President Artis has several initiatives. One is a five-year strategic online anonymous survey that encourages students to participate in planning of the university’s future.
Another FMU initiative is a partnership with the SEED School of Miami, the first college-preparatory, public boarding school for under-served in south Florida and the third SEED school in the nation. The mission is to provide an outstanding educational program that empowers students to be successful, both academically and socially, in college and beyond.
Beginning in the fall of 2014, 60 sixth-grade students live and learn on FMUs campus. It is a 24-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week learning environment from Sunday evening through Friday afternoon. Students return home on weekends. They have close supervision from SEED teachers, counselors and other faculty. Many students live in Miami Gardens.
The SEED Foundation, a national nonprofit opened two similar schools in Washington, D.C., 16 years ago and Maryland in 2008. More than 80 percent of SEED graduates are first generation college students and ninety percent go on to college.
Figuring out how HBCUs can increase relevancy in today’s society FMU’s President Artis is quoted in the Journal of Blacks In Higher Education: “We are an institution committed to the communities we serve, and we seek opportunities to help ensure future generations of students have every opportunity to succeed. SEED shares our deep belief in the power of education to broaden horizons and build bright futures.”
Florida Memorial University is one of 100 plus HBCUs continuing to promote achievement by educating generations for the future.
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.