Praise the Lord, everybody. This is the day the Lord has made and we shall rejoice and be glad in it. I greet you with the joy of Jesus today on this glorious HBCU Sunday, here at the Washington national cathedral. We give honor to the Dean, the distinguished leadership of the cathedral, all who are special guests, friends, colleagues, and family, HBCU leadership, students and alumni and supporters. To my brothers and sisters in service in the Divine Nine, and especially my Soros and Delta. I bring you greetings from the Ebenezer AME church family, where I’m under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Grainger and Joanne Browning, to all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. The word today on this HBCU Sunday, Romans 15:4 and 6,from the New Living translation: “Such things were written in the scriptures long ago to teach us, and the scriptures give us hope and encouragement, as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled”. Verse six, “Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Let us pray. Spirit of the living God, we invoke your presence and ask that you show up and show out and let your supernatural presence meet us in this place. That we may hear your voice and in hearing, obey your word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Today is HBCU Sunday. And we’ve come to celebrate, to affirm and honor the strength of HBCUs. The quality education HBCUs provide, the legacy and powerful, prolific, productive leaders they produce. Today is HBCU Sunday. And this is a time to acknowledge the history heritage legacy of HBCUs, and what deep and abiding faith in God will also do. Today we gather to celebrate HBCU Sunday, and articulate their importance, advocate their relevance, confirm their resilience, validate their value, cite their contributions individually and collectively, and substantiate their significance. Today we pause to reflect on and highlight the multifarious contributions of HBCUs. To peruse the visual history captured in photos and footage and prose. To respect the sacrifices of our ancestors, to honor the shoulders on which we stand and praise God for the promise. Today we remember the brave pioneers who knew that our awesome and amazing God had given them a divine assignment.

Their mission was to create and build something powerful and productive that would outlast them. So they prayed and they worked, and they prayed and they worked, and obeyed God, to prepare educational institutions for future generations. And so that’s why we say today, first, that HBCUs are sacred spaces. Our ancestors were courageous, daring, and persistent enough to believe in a sacred space where children of African descent could be educated, creating schools to serve newly freed slaves. They believed and trusted God for the plan, the process and the promise. They were on a mission from God. The progenitors of this generation combined their limited resources, and launched into uncharted territory. And walked in faith that God would provide the increase, God would fill in the gaps and God would make a way when they could not see the way.

The majority of HBCUs were founded through cooperation and collaboration with churches. They were started in churches. They found classroom space in churches and many were the extensions of schools of theology. Many religious denominations supported establishing institutions of higher education for African Americans. To highlight a few. In 1837, Quaker Richard Humphreys opened the doors of the Institute for Colored Youth making now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest, historically black school of higher education. The AME Church established Wilberforce University, Edward Waters, Allen, Morris Brown, Paul Quinn, and Payne Theological seminary. The AME Zion church founded Livingstone College, the Baptist established Shaw, Spelman, Morehouse, Benedict, and Virginia Union. The Episcopal Church provided funding for the establishment of St. Augustine University. The Roman Catholic Church founded Xavier University of Louisiana. Miles College was established by the CME Church. The United Methodist supported the establishment of Clark college, Atlanta, Dillard, and Bennett. And in 1867, Morgan State was founded as Centenary Biblical Institute. And also in 1867, the Howard Normal and Theological School for the education of teachers and preachers opened its doors. And today is Howard university.

Historically HBCUs are rooted in faith, community and service, in addition to providing a quality education. Black churches and black colleges have long been pillars of the black community and are inextricably bound together with faith, values and service to others. That is why HBCUs offer a great value proposition to students and produce students with great values. And we must never forget the hundreds of thousands of heroes and sheroes who have emerged from our HBCUs. And it’s even more powerful to see movement from the creation and opening of the first Institute for Colored Youth to now having over 100 HBCUs. HBCUs have moved from the educational constraints, limiting their curricula to teacher’s colleges, to now having undergraduate and graduate programs. And 10 HBCUs have been awarded the coveted R2 Carnegie classification based on their research. The R2 classification is for institutions with high research activity.

And additionally, to be moving beyond the curricular constraints, we have built law schools and medical schools and dental schools and business schools and other distinguished professional schools, all with robust competitive curricula. And we’ve moved from student learners in church basements and one room schoolhouses to HBCUs with hundreds of acres and thousands of students and a broad range of disciplines and programs. HBCUs have moved from those who doubted and rejected the qualifications of those of us who graduated from HBCUs to seeing many accomplished and acclaimed HBCU graduates who have made and continued to make significant contributions in all fields of endeavor. We’ve moved from laws on the books against teaching black children to read and write to those who are now administrators making critical decisions, engaging in vital partnerships and collaborations. Yes, we have come a long way because HBCUs were established and created in a sacred space and produce enterprising well, qualified students with faith and values.

Dr. King, and it’s not lost on me that I’m standing in the place where he gave his last sermon, Dr. King would remind us that the function of education is to teach one to think intensively, and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education. And so, our HBCUs were created not only as sacred space, but also as a safe space. Students succeed in an environment where they are appreciated and encouraged by people who care. That is why there is so much success at HBCUs, because they recreate a safe space and an atmosphere that breeds confidence. HBCUs create an ecosystem that advocates positive peer pressure, encourages free expression, applauds creativity, and exposes students to opportunities and people they might never have a chance to meet on their own.

HBCUs provide knowledge, the accumulation of facts, but not just the accumulation of facts. Also, they inspire and embrace wisdom and good judgment. Participation in convocations and symposiums and chapel services and dialogue and interviews and debates and podcasts and other campus events. Being inducted into honor societies and competing for scholarships and fellowships. Joining organizations like the NAACP, NCNW, our sororities and fraternities, and others who engage in service and advocacy. Participating in activities that allow you to grow your confidence. It’s also the place where you meet your soulmate, your best friend for life.

And then there is Homecoming. There is nothing like an HBCU Homecoming. Queens, and Kings, and concerts and the battle of the bands, the parade, the game, the gathering, there’s nothing like an HBCU Homecoming. HCBUs are havens of cultural affirmation and centers of excellence. Even with endowments that are one eighth of PWIs, they are still producing history makers, researchers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, accountants, theologians, bloggers, influencers, military leaders, astronauts, athletes, singers, actors, dancers, artists, authors, poets, lawyers, judges, college presidents, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, and any other O that you can name. That’s what we create at HBCUs.

At HBCUs the expectations and standards are set extraordinarily high. Students learn how to be great and generous, how to protest and how to pray, how to think deeply and methodically and spiritually, and how to embrace perseverance with patience and prayer. To do whatever it takes to fulfill God’s Jeremiah 29:11 purpose and plan. And, and to be reminded from second Samuel 22:20, “He led me to a place of safety. He rescued me because he delights in me”. Yes, HBCUs are sacred place. They’re a safe place, but they’re also the place where we learn to struggle. But we also learn to survive. W. E. B. Dubois said, “Education must not simply teach work. It must teach life”. HBCUs are that place where we learn life. We develop mountain moving faith, where you learn to make bricks without straw. And it may feel like a wilderness experience, but we must declare in that wilderness it is really the place where we meet God.

So we must be relentless and resilient and speak up for the institutions that had given all of us so very much. And as we struggle in the wilderness, we must stay on guard and be prepared because as HBCU successes become more visible, they come under attack by those who try to cast doubt on the relevance of HBCUs, the value of our education, the veracity of our curriculum, the capacity of our professors and the authority of our scholars. But we will survive. As we struggle in the wilderness, we survive the trauma of trying to balance budgets, where we have been critically underfunded. We will survive the interruptions introduced by external chaos and confusion to try to impede our forward progress. As we struggle with those who would try to alter our history or redact our history, or remove our history just to make distractors comfortable.

But yes, we will struggle, but we will survive. We struggle with those who hope we will just be quiet and go away. And accept their revisionist history version of our history, or be discouraged by nooses on campus, or be distracted by bomb threats on campus. But they know, like we know, that knowledge is power. And we will not be silent. We will not be bullied. We will survive because we understand the enemy is afraid of truth. And the enemy is afraid of you as HBCU students and alumni, because he understands the power of education. These are only the same recycled tricks of the adversary. They were used during slavery and Jim Crow and were prevalent in the civil rights movement. When they bombed 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham and burned down black wall street in Tulsa and killed black and white freedom riders. But God reminds us today in Deuteronomy 3:22, “You must not fear them for the Lord your God himself fights for you”.

So, the good news is HBCUs are in a sacred place, a safe place, but they’re also a place of success. The education at an HBCU prepares you for anything and everything that will come in your direction. In other words, you can go anywhere with an education from an HBCU. If you don’t believe me, just let me give you a quick roll call of HBCU alumni: Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr., Morehouse; Thurgood Marshall, Howard: W.E.B. Dubois, Fisk; John Lewis, Talladega; Elijah Cummings, Howard; Katherine Johnson, West Virginia State University; Barbara Jordan, Texas Southern; Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida, A&M; Stacey Abrams, Spelman; Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State; Chadwick Bozeman, Howard; Lonnie Johnson, Tuskegee; Eunique Jones Gibson, Bowie State; Freeman and Jackie Hrabowski, Hampton Institute; Alexis Herman, Xavier; Erykah Badu, Grambling; Toni Morrison, Howard; Alice Walker, Spelman; Nikki Giovanni, Fisk; Taraji P. Henson, Howard; Rosalyn Brewer, Spelman; Derek Johnson, Tougaloo; Dmitri Stockton, North Carolina A&T; John W. Thompson, Florida A&M; Joyce Roche, Dillard; Terrance J, North Carolina A&T; Michael Strahan, Texas Southern University; Joyce Bailey, Central State; James Clyburn, South Carolina State; Rafael Warnock, Morehouse, and Kamala Harris, Howard University.

You can go anywhere and do anything with an education from an HBCU. The sacred safe place where we learn how to struggle, but we succeed because we understand the synergy in truth, culture, influence and impact. We learn how to engage in respectful intellectual discourse and conduct impressive, renowned research, and create art in all its forms and genre. We investigate intense issues and we increase your capacity and your discipline in whatever field of study you pursue. HBCUs are that place where you learn to never allow people to put a period where God has placed a comma. HBCUs are that place, that sacred, safe place, where we struggle.

But we also know that it is a place that when you enter, people from the president’s office to faculty, support staff, alumni, and even the custodial staff, operate with the assumption that you are already great, you are already talented. You are already blessed and highly favored. And you will leave this university as a phenomenal HBCU graduate ready to change the world. And so today we celebrate HBCUs as places of success. Hebrews 10:13 says, “For you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise”.

So, things are turning around. During the health pandemic and the economic downturn and racial unrest, our HBCU presidents provided unshakable leadership and their academic programs gained positive attention and received record donations. You saw it. HBCUs received over $500 million from MacKenzie Scott, largely unrestricted in nature, with most of the gifts between $15 and $50 million. Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, announced they were donating $120 million, $40 million each to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse. IBM announced it was establishing a quantum education and research initiative for HBCUs. Michael Bloomberg announced his foundation would donate 100 million dollars to four historically black medical schools, in an attempt to improve the health and wealth of black communities. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let’s not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not”. So, our HBCUs are sacred places, safe places. Yes, places where we struggle, but they are places of success. The place where we increase and strengthen our faith in God. The special place where we sing to celebrate our journey. We lift every voice and sing. All three verses. And we know what they mean. And we know why we sing.

We know the meaning of kente cloth, and we wear it with pride. HBCUs are the place that reminds us, we are more than conquers through him that loves us. It reminds us that no weapon formed against us will be able to prosper. And that the battle is not ours, but it belongs to the Lord. So today we celebrate HBCUs as sacred, safe places where we will struggle, but we will succeed. We learn how to stand up, to stand out, to speak up and to sustain our culture and our history. Education makes the difference. Our HBCUs are making a difference. The mission of our ancestors was to create and to build. Our responsibility in this generation is to grow and expand, to keep our HBCUs strong, sustainable, successful, and strategically secure. Romans 6:6, “Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. To God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory for all the great things he has done, is doing, and will do in all of our lives, individually and collectively. Because we know that for all of our HBCUs, the best is still yet to come. God bless you.


The Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd