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HBCU tour packs a punch for IPS students

The abbreviated version of the Brogdon Family Foundation’s student trip to tour Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) still packed a punch for select students from Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS).

The foundation, co-founded by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon and his mother Jann Adams, partnered with IPS to create a multiday, multistate tour of four HBCUs, but concerns about ensuring student safety, led to a shortened trip.

Adams said those concerns were enough to delay the trip until they could be worked out.

“If, for example, a student contracted COVID, that student would have had to stay behind with a chaperone for four days in another state,” she said. “We didn’t want to create a situation where someone became ill.”

The abbreviated trip treated students to a two-day excursion that ended each day back home in Indianapolis. The shortened event included a day trip to Louisville and virtual visits with school officials and students conducted at Arsenal Technical High School.

For the Louisville leg on March 27, students bused to the Muhammad Ali Center, a multicultural center with an award-winning museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the late professional boxer, where they learned about Ali’s storied career and social initiatives, followed by a lunch discussion with a family and circuit court judge focused on developing careers in law.

“It was not about criminal justice,” Adams said. “It was really about perseverance, character, and their pathway—the things that happened that were pivotal events that influenced them growing up.”

A screening of a documentary about social justice attorney Bryan Stevenson followed before the trip back home.

The next day they viewed a presentation by Morehouse College psychology professor David Wall Rice, who led the students through a discussion on identity and students finding their paths at HBCUs. The day also included virtual tours and presentations by representatives from Kentucky State University, Tennessee State University, and Morehouse College. After dinner, the trip ended with tickets to the Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks game, before returning to school for pick up.

The trip’s main goals were to introduce students to HBCUs and the educational experience they afford the students and to raise awareness about the social justice component of the college experience, including the role HBCUs can and do play in that arena.

“What we found here is that students were maybe aware that Muhammad Ali was a famous boxing champion, but they didn’t necessarily know about his social activism,” Adams said. “So, it gave them the chance to learn about black historical figures like Ali, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, all these people who were associated with HBCUs.”

Fewer students were able to attend; only 16 of the 45 students who originally RSVP’d participated. While the turnout wasn’t as big as initially hoped, it gave the students who could attend a more up-close, personalized experience.

The most popular moment to ask questions seemed to be during the Morehouse presentation.  Morehouse students answered questions and homesickness seemed to be on the high schoolers’ minds.

“Two or three students asked about how they handled being homesick,” Adams said. “The students responded that yeah they missed their mom, but then they got over it, and now it is great.” It reflected this trepidation about leaving home that is maybe centered around being first-generation a little bit.”

The full tour is still planned for fall break, and while application selection will reopen, the students who were accepted this time around will have the first crack at spots. Counselor Courtney Thomas, a chaperone on the trip, said the tour helped students understand that a college is a viable option for them.

“It was obvious that the students on this trip want to pursue higher education, but they just need to learn a lot more of what that even looks like,” she said. “Many of them would be first-generation college students, and I had a lot of conversations one-on-one about their ability to go to college with scholarships, and the other ways to pay for it that will not require loans. They have that kind of ‘aha’ moment realizing that’s possible for them.”