By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Rev. Janette Wilson, national executive director for PUSH for Excellence, was literally on the road with 68 youth between the ages of 14 and 17 visiting a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).
Before leaving April 16, Wilson spoke to 20 boys and 48 girls in the Rev. Clay Evans Chapel at PUSH where she gave them their marching orders. Upstairs in the community hall, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. spoke separately to the parents thanking them for allowing their students to go on the tour.
Loaded down with luggage, the anxious students boarded two buses and headed out on their HBCU tour but to make sure they knew their trip would be more than visiting HBCU’s and to ensure they understood their historical roots, Wilson first took them to church then to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. “We wanted them to have the historic context of Dr. King,” she said.
Wilson then took the high school seniors to Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi and Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. They went on to visit Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and the three schools in the Southern University System located in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, Louisiana.
Unfortunately, the students could not go to Texas Southern University in Houston or Prairie View A&M University in Prairie, Texas due to inclement weather.
Instead they visited the Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, Wiley College in Marshall, Texas and the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The final college stop in Arkansas was the Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. While in Little Rock the students visited Central High School, which is now recognized for its role in the integration of public schools. Wilson also took them to visit the local Shell Oil Refinery. These schools were their last stops before returning to PUSH Headquarters Saturday, April 23.
Back at the PUSH Headquarters, Rev. Janette Wilson discussed the various scholarships awarded to students attending HBCUs.
“This year we are renewing (every three years) our Toyota scholarships for $25,000 each for ten students. We have the Ora Lee Saunders Scholarship where 68 students will have their scholarships renewed. We have the New York Life scholarship, where another 12 students will received this scholarship. We have about 100 students in school receiving scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 for every student,” said Wilson.
When asked why the students were taken on stops to visit historic sites, Wilson said it was important and that she wants the students to be exposed to their history.
“So much of our history lives within the historic black colleges and many of our institutions like the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King spent his last day on earth.”
Wilson continued, “You get the sense at the Lorraine Motel of the Freedom Riders and all the things that led up to Blacks getting the Voting Rights Acts—the movement. Our young people need to know their history, see it in living color and then to visit institutions run by people who look like them. They can see themselves graduating from college and becoming doctors, lawyers…. It gives them hope and opportunity.”
“When we look at the level of violence and unemployment and the destruction that exist in urban and rural America particularly in the African American community, every community organization and every church need to provide this kind of exposure to our young people,” she said. “They deserve more than they are getting. We need to invest in them…invest in our present and our future,” said Wilson.