In Maryland, where four historically Black colleges and universities enroll more than 20,000 students a year, many of the state’s movers and shakers have some connection to these legacy institutions.

Their graduates and attendees swear by these schools, which they say provide not only a solid education but important life lessons while instilling an unshakable confidence needed to excel in society.

Nationally, HBCUs have drawn attention for a recent outpouring of donations; increased applications and enrollment; and famous alums, such as Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard University), media mogul Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), author Ta-Nehisi Coates (Howard University), Georgia politician Stacey Abrams (Spelman College), and “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth Carter (Hampton University).

In Maryland, leaders with ties to HBCUs include U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (Morgan State University), Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby (Tuskegee University), philanthropists Eddie and Sylvia Brown (Howard University), Downtown Partnership President Shelonda Stokes (Morgan State University), and the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (Howard University).

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The increasing diversification of HBCUs has occasionally spurred controversy, from a Latina student who faced cyber-bullying after being crowned Miss Coppin State University to a white student setting off an online debate after she posted news about her acceptance by Spelman College on Instagram. Writers frequently tackle questions about whether HBCUs are still relevant.

With tens of thousands of visitors in town for the CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Division II Tournament at CFG Bank Arena, which runs through Saturday, The Baltimore Banner asked HBCU grads with ties to Maryland how their college experience prepared them for the work world. Here are some of their responses.

Jasmine Norton, owner of The Urban Oyster (Courtesy of Urban Oyster)

Jasmine Norton, 35, restaurateur, The Urban Oyster

Graduated in 2011 from Bowie State University

Believed to be the only Black woman in the state to own a brick-and-mortar, oyster-themed restaurant, Norton has been a fixture in the local food industry for more than a decade. In 2020, Norton was a contestant on “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a game show hosted by food personality Guy Fieri. In 2022, she has also appeared as a contestant on “Chopped.”

How has going to an HBCU prepared you for the work world?

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Attending an HBCU has prepared me to value my education and apply my studies in as many facets of my work and business that make sense. Education was something that was denied to those before us, and we must maintain the importance of acknowledging the sacrifices that were made to afford us the opportunity. We have to continue to support our respective HBCUs.

Why are HBCUs still relevant in 2023?

HBCUs are still relevant in 2023 because it is a direct reflection of our ancestry and history. It is important that we know where we come from and have tangible access, like educational artifacts being the physical black college institution. The biggest advantage of attending an HBCU is the sense of community, culture and lifelong friendships that are curated during that experience.

Azikiwe Deveaux, 47, founder of Events 4 Good People (E4GP), stands outside his alma mater, Morgan State University. (Paul Newson)

Azikiwe DeVeaux, 47, founder of Events 4 Good People, or E4GP

Graduated in 1999 from Morgan State University

As one of the city’s premiere event and party promoters, DeVeaux hosts a series of events connected to Morgan State University’s homecoming each year. He is also an instrumental part of the Black Owned Restaurant Tour (BORT) that’s connected to the CIAA Tournament.

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How has an HBCU prepared you for work?

I first worked at Johns Hopkins for six years in my major [public health] and felt prepared for the corporate world. And I also was prepared for my entrepreneurship journey once I left the corporate office.

Why are HBCUs still relevant?

Statistics still show we’re disadvantaged as a people and therefore an education that addresses those challenges in an environment that doesn’t make us feel inferior is still necessary.

Biggest advantage of HBCU?

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They are a real mirror of who you are and where you stand with all things being equal. Many times, things will happen to us [Black people] and we wonder if it was because of our color. The HBCU experience tells us whether it’s an outside or inside issue.

Karen Miller, a politicial fundraiser, poses for a portrait outside of her waterfront office on the Inner Harbor. Miller has worked for Maryland candidate Tom Perez's gubernatorial campaign, as well as for Antonio Hayes and Shannon Sneed. (Paul Newson)

Karen Miller, 53, crisis management consultant and political fundraiser

Bachelor’s degree in telecommunications, minor in speech, 1992; master’s in communications management, 2002 (both from Morgan State University)

Miller has worked on the Maryland political campaigns of Tom Perez, Antonio Hayes and Shannon Sneed. Her company, Karen Miller Consulting, is based in Fells Point. She is a rarity in Maryland — a Black woman political fundraiser.

How has an HBCU prepared you for work?

At an HBCU, you are nurtured, feel protected, and [as with] my experiences at Morgan, you are instilled with a belief that you are beautiful, you are smart and that you belong. While I was taught that I am in no way inferior, I was also taught that I had to work that much harder to get a shot. Being on time was ”late,” and being overly prepared was the rule, not the exception. Attending an HBCU made me fearless. I am confident in every room I enter and every assignment I’m asked to perform, because I know that I am good at what I do, and I am proud of who I am.

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Why are HBCUs still relevant?

HBCUs are as relevant now [as] when I attended. We are at a crossroads in society and in history, where being Black and proud is more of an action than a statement. HBCUs provide a safe haven for [Black people] to be as creative, as saucy and as brilliant as we can be. Today’s Black youth do not feel inferior but empowered. HBCUs are the village that provides them with the tools to be effective, so that being empowered is a verb and not an adjective. HBCUs are much more affordable, much more diverse and it feels like “home,” whatever your definition of home might be.

Marcy Crump, founder of The Flywire. (PAGREENE)

Marcy Crump, 58, event producer and communications consultant

Graduated in 1988 from Virginia Union University

Crump is a Towson resident and founder of The Flywire, a digital platform that celebrates Black culture and has more than 50,000 Instagram followers.

How has going to an HBCU prepared you for the work world?

Dr. David Shannon, the president of Virginia Union, was my high school graduation’s keynote speaker. When he discovered only two of the 20 top students had college commitments, he offered all 20 [of them] presidential scholarships. I was one of those students. My family couldn’t even afford application fees for college at the time. So, the scholarship and opportunity were a complete surprise and saved my life. … Virginia Union provided a safe, supportive environment to flourish. I had room to soar and be myself. I was a very active student and maximized my HBCU experience to the fullest. [I was a] resident assistant, cheerleader, sorority member, college newspaper and yearbook staff, modeling club and, oh yeah, I went to class, too. I received my degree in journalism and I use that skill every day.

My family could breathe and rebuild knowing I was good. My teachers and administrators never told me no. Some pulled me to the side when I missed one too many classes and some identified new skills and asked me to lead projects. College and life weren’t easy, but in a challenging time that could have destroyed me the university strengthened me. I wasn’t necessarily sure of my career path. Black journalists and writers were rare at the time, but I graduated with confidence in myself.

Are HBCUs still relevant?

Absolutely, attending an HBCU is even more relevant and advantageous. It can be a deliberate choice to build the best version of yourself without the obstacles of maneuvering in predominately white environments.