KANSAS CITY, MO. There are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities across the country, but many students don’t find out about them until after they choose college.
But a Kansas City-based group is working to change that.
The goal of HBCU Walking Billboard is to encourage students to attend these colleges and to support them throughout their school years.
The walking billboards are graduates who paved the way for students like William Powell, a senior at Jackson State University, an HBCU. As a middle school student in Kansas City, he met JSU through the rookie program with HBCU Walking Billboard.
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“When I made my visit, it was like a home away from home,” said Powell. “So we were taught and learned [HBCUs] early. Once it was time to look at colleges and universities, these were the schools we had in mind. ”
HBCUs were created before black students could attend predominantly white colleges. Now the institutions are graduating from the majority of African American high school graduates. Various HBCUs also offer law schools and medical schools.
Shanelle Smith is a Fisk University graduate and assistant principal at Southeast High School. She founded HBCU Walking Billboard. The nonprofit works with schools across the subway to raise awareness and encourage attendance.
“In Kansas City, we only hear of major schools and local schools. We don’t really have much contact with historically black colleges because we’re there, ”said Smith. “So the need for our organization is pretty obvious.”
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Dozens of students have been supported since the program began in 2015. Smith plans to expand the program to reach more students who could benefit.
“We’re starting our HBCU prospectus program, which will be a 3-year cohort,” said Smith. “So they went through college and career planning and programming from their sophomore through their senior year, and then from there they preferred to choose an HBCU.”
Smith said the majority of her students strive to find internships in the Kansas City area in their respective field of study. Students doing an internship in the city often come back to work full-time.
Powell will be earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering this spring.
“I actually have a job offer that’s been accepted by Burns & McDonnell here in Kansas City, and I’ll be joining the Water Group in June,” said Powell.
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