Following the screening of the film Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, the auditorium of the Marian Anderson Music Center was met with an enthusiastic response, as large rounds of applause grew from the audience.
“As the oldest HBCU Cheyney knows something about this subject [referring to the film’s title]. We survived slavery, Jim Crow laws, two world wars, racism and beyond – yet still we rise,” said President Aaron A. Walton in his opening remarks to the packed house.
During the event, viewers were given a preview of the origin of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to gather an in-depth view of their evolution and the impact they’ve had on not only Black history, but American history, culture and national identity.
The panel discussion that followed the screening featured moderator Lisa-Wright Bryant and panelist; Dr. Chuck A. Baker (an educator and Cheyney alumni), Cara Fantini (a Cheyney senior), Adiah Ferron Reid (Senior Counsel at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and Howard University graduate) and Dr. Janelle L. Williams (the Assistant Director for Health Policy at the University of the Sciences, a visiting scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and CU alumna).
The evening’s distinct blend of panelists, who hail from varying educational and professional backgrounds, each shared a commonality in their ties to and knowledge of the inner workings of an HBCU and rendered their experiences with audience members.
The panel discussed many of the challenges historically faced at HBCUs including underfunding and the protection of their historical value and legacy. With Baker, Fantini and Williams sharing a connection to Cheyney, they provided direct insight on how attending the nation’s oldest HBCU has played a fundamental role in shaping their lives and why it is important to encourage future generations to attend.
Dr. Baker, who graduated from the University with a BA in Sociology and later obtained a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, credits Cheyney for establishing the foundation for his further intellectual pursuits. He summed up his CU experience by saying, “I learned here, thrived here and felt safe here.”
Fantini, who served as the only current student on the panel noted, “An HBCU is one of the best places to be to become prepared for the world.” She continued, “I feel that HBCUs thrive because they teach you how to succeed and how important it is that you believe that you can succeed. Coming to Cheyney and seeing people who look like you succeeding inspires you to want to do the same.”
“There is no better value for anyone’s dollar than an education from Cheyney University,” proudly stated Dr. Williams, who developed the “pick one, bring one” strategy that calls on alum to bring an aspiring college student to the campus to visit and assist them through the application process. “As alumni we need to do whatever we can to push the HBCU experience and share our success stories in order to encourage future generations to attend.”
Tell Them We Are Rising premiered nationally on the PBS program Independent Lens on February 19 and can be viewed, in full, using this link. View additional photos from the screening event at Cheyney, here.
Top photo courtesty of WHYY/Laurie Beck Peterson [l to r]: moderator, Lisa-Wright Bryant and panelist; Dr. Chuck A. Baker, Dr. Janelle L. Williams, Cara Fantini and Adiah Ferron Reid.