Change can come from all directions, and two men are leveraging technology and new media to stimulate a transformation at HBCUs. Dr. Walter Kimbrough, a.k.a the “Hip-Hop President” of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas and Jarrett Carter, the man behind HBCUDigest are working to engage alumni, students and key leaders of HBCUs.
Dr. Kimbrough is one of the youngest HBCU presidents in the country and uses social media and strategy to advance the school’s social justice mission. In the process, he has made a name for himself and Philander Smith. One visible manifestation of his success is the “Bless the Mic” speaker’s series, which has featured such notable guests as Roland Martin, James Carville, and Dr. Cornel West. “I have been able to connect with folks through the lecture series which helps spread the message of the college. It has also been a way to make education relevant for young people.”
Philander Smith is by no means a large school, but according to Dr. Kimbrough, being smaller has its benefits. “Being small allows you to change quickly and have more impact immediately. So 10 years ago no one was writing about PSC anywhere, not even locally. Now, we’re mentioned in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Diverse Issues, and in speeches by Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett.” This heightened exposure has been critical in helping shine a light on the triumphs and challenges at his school.
If Dr. Kimbrough is changing HBCU leadership from the inside out, then Jarrett Carter is changing it from the outside in. Carter is the founder and managing editor of HBCU Digest, a media channel that covers all things HBCU. His first HBCU-centric blog dealt only with sports, and he decided that larger issues needed more attention. “I decided that I would develop an outlet that would bring as much coverage about research, leadership, student activities, academic development, politics and culture surrounding the entirety of HBCU culture. I figured that if we can know more about the great things we do, and have an honest look at the things we do poorly, we’d have a great chance of today’s students feeling more informed about, connected with and responsible for their HBCUs as alumni.”
Carter cites HBCU leadership, alumni and supporters as inspirations, but especially appreciates the love he gets from HBCU students. “Most of all its students. Thousands of students on Twitter who are unafraid to discuss real issues affecting HBCUs in a mature and responsible way. These folks make my job fun, exciting and rewarding every single day of my life.” He uses Facebook, Twitter, the HBCUDigest website and radio to continue the conversation of how HBCU stakeholders can make a difference. “We have to do a better job of communicating the fact that it only takes a little bit from each of us. Five dollars, one vote, one letter written – when all of us do it – goes a long way.”
Change happens, but only when people get involved at both ends of the power spectrum. Dr. Kimbrough and Jarrett Carter are examples of that. Their passion for progress shows that the next generation of leaders is unafraid to advocate for the success of HBCUs.