Generation Next

Robin M. Bennefield

A survey from the Southeast Policy Leaders Forum says African American college students are ready to take the leadership reigns, despite what most Baby Boomers think

WASHINGTON — The popular perception is that young African Americans would rather wear their pants off their hips and bob their heads to rap beats than concern themselves with important issues like education, economic self-sufficiency, or the environment. However, a recent survey of students at 11 historically Black colleges and universities turns that perception on its head.

Improving education is considered the most important strategy for African Americans to improve their lives, according to 23 percent of students surveyed in the Southeast Policy Leaders Forum (SEPLF) survey, conducted October 1998 through February 1999. Economic self-sufficiency was the second most common response to this question about improving Black lives, garnering 19 percent of the responses. Not only did students show concern for the future of their communities, but they also proved that they are civic minded, with 79 percent of students saying they are registered to vote.

“If anyone is fearful that there will not be a next generation of leaders, they haven’t met these students,” says Darold Johnson, director of the forum. “The role of college faculty and administrators now is to help facilitate their sense of community activism.”

While many current leaders in the Black community have bemoaned the loss of young African Americans to drugs, crime, and teen pregnancy, students at HBCUs have been proving them wrong by becoming active in their community in nontraditional ways. They are mentoring and tutoring young people, feeding the homeless, and cleaning up the environment in their communities.

Nearly 60 percent of the students surveyed at Bennett College, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T University, Southern University, and Spelman College say that they are active in volunteer efforts not sponsored by fraternities or sororities.

Almost 90 percent of students at North Carolina A&T are involved in some volunteer activity, continuing that institution’s long history of civic and community activism. The legendary civil rights activists known as “The Greensboro Four,” who in 1960 staged the first sit-in at a Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth’s, were NCA&T students.

“The history of activism still thrives here,” says Dr. Dorothy Harris, vice chancellor of student development at NCA&T. “Students know that they are expected to give back.”

In fact each student organization on the NCA&T campus — 240 of them this year — must have community service as a part of its constitution, with a minimum of 10 hours of service required. Harris says most of NCA&T’s students are active in Black child development programs like mentoring and voter education and registration drives.

“Community service must be one of the HBCUs missions,” says Harris, an NCA&T alumni who was active during the Greensboro sit-ins. “Students need to know that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them and they must continue to reach back.”

While the survey results prove that Black students are indeed giving back, the SEPLF hopes that the results inspire policy makers and community activists to use students’ ideas and enthusiasm to push forward an new agenda for African American public policy.

The SEPLF, an arm of the Center for Policy Alternatives based in Washington, D.C., was formed in 1996 to provide resources and leadership training to African American leaders in order to help them shape welfare reform, children’s heath insurance, and affirmative action policies in southern states.

Southeast Policy Leaders Forum Survey Questions

What two issues concern you the most?

(Total Responses 385)

Educational Issues 18.1%

Sex (STDs, Pregnancy, Abortion, AIDs) 8%

In one word describe your generation.

(Total responses 388)

Negative 157 54.5%

Positive 103 35.7%

Neutral 28 9.7%

What political leader on the national

level do you admire and why?

(Total Responses 299)

Bill Clinton 23.4%

Jesse Jackson 5%

What are the two most important issues

affecting African-American women

between the ages of 18-25?

Men between the ages of 18-25?

Women (Total Responses 424)

Sex (Pregnancy, Abortion, AIDs, STDs) 48.5%

Job Opportunities 3.5%

Men (Total Responses 414)

Crime (Violence, Drugs, Jail) 37.6%

Sex (Fatherfood, AIDs, STDs) 20%

Do you participate in any other volunteer

activities that are Rot sponsored by a

fraternity or sorority?

(Total Responses 323)

No 42.2%

Yes 59.3%

SOURCE: SOUTHEAST POLICY LEADERS FORUM, 1999

COPYRIGHT 1999 Cox, Matthews & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group