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Vice President Kamala Harris’ election puts spotlight on HBCUs

Dillard has wide range of luminaries of its own

On February 22, 2021

2020 Pulitzer Prize winner and DU alum, Jericho Brown, is picured with Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy after a book signing at Dillard Univesity.

NEW ORLEANS (February 22, 2021) – Vice President Kamala Harris, on the national stage at the highest level of government, is continuing to change narratives in mainstream media as the Howard University graduate puts the spotlight on historically black colleges and universities.

But the accomplishments of HBCU graduates, and Dillard alumni in particular, are no secret.

Starting with P.B.S. Pinchback, the first African American governor in any U.S. state who served in that role in Louisiana during Reconstruction (a Straight University graduate in 1885) to Jericho Brown, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2020, Dillard has its share of luminaries in all walks of life.

Some 29 percent of all African-American college graduates are HBCU alumni, according to the United Negro College Fund. HBCUs have produced an estimated 80 percent of the nation’s black judges and 50 percent of black doctors.

As the first black, Asian and woman to serve as vice president, Harris’ swearing-in on Jan. 20 prompted phrases to trend on Twitter such as “My VP is an HBCU grad” and “My VP is a black woman and went to an HBCU.”  HBCU students across the country, including Dillard students and staff, showed their pride by wearing “chucks and pearls,” Harris’ signature style.

She came to the post after becoming the first black woman to serve as California’s attorney general and the second black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate.

Here at Dillard, an analysis by the United Negro College Fund in 2014 of Dillard’s impact projected that 2014 graduates would earn a total of $472 million in their lifetimes. Overall, the report said, the school generates about $83 million in total economic impact for local and regional communities, including direct spending by Dillard and by students.

DU biology major Derrick Webb said Harris’ election gave him hope “that anything is possible, and through all of the systemic oppression and racism, minorities are constantly breaking barriers and proving naysayers wrong.”

Webb said he was accepted to attend five predominantly white institutions and chose Dillard, an HBCU, because he saw here an “environment where I could thrive and be myself.”

Dillard alum Tevon Blair, a graduate student and founder of Xceleader, a nonprofit cultivating the next generation of HBCU leaders through promoting civic engagement, said Harris’ election “shows us how far our HBCU degrees can take us in this country.”

He added, “Seeing HBCUs represented in various industries gives HBCU students and alumni a sense of connection, knowing that someone just like them breaks barriers in their career.”

Following is just a sampling of prominent Dillard alumni from the Office of Communications releases:

  • Albert Dent, Dillard’s second president who established the first accredited school of nursing in the state and a Straight University graduate. New Orleans is considering renaming General Early Street to Dent Drive in his honor.
  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., the father of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. King Senior earned a two-year degree here in the 1920s.
  • Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Revius O. Ortigue Jr. (Class of 1947), the first black to serve on the state high court. Over the years, his work with the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Legal Aid Committee served as a model for pro bono legal work. An annual lecture series and the Ortique Mock Trial Courtroom at Dillard are named in his honor.
  • Comedian/actor/singer Garrett Morris (Class of 1958), who was in the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” and starred on “The Jamie Foxx Show.”
  • Ruth Simmons (Class of 1967), the first African American president of an Ivy League school, Brown University, who later became president of Prairie View A&M.
  • Fifth Circuit Judge Carl Stewart (Class of 1971); named by then-President Bill Clinton, he was the first black to serve as the Fifth Circuit’s chief judge.
  • Harlem Globetrotter Bill Ray “Supertrotter” Hobley (Class of 1978). Hobley traveled the globe six times with the team and retired in 1998 to become an assistant basketball coach at Dillard. The Billy Ray Hobley Endowed Scholarship Fund was created in his honor.
  • Shreveport City Judge Sheva Sims, who serves on the Louisiana Commission on Justice System Funding. (She majored in mathematics.)
  • Ashle Mitchell, a talent relations manager at BET who is being highlighted in Nike’s Yardrunners Campaign as an HBCU Taste Maker.
  • James Williams, president of U.S. Lubricants. (He majored in economics.)
  • Cassandra McKinney, executive vice president and executive director of the Retail Bank for Comerica Bank. (She earned a degree in chemistry.)
  • Glenda McNeal, president of enterprise strategic partnerships at American Express and a member of the company’s executive committee.
  • Brandis Friedman, host of “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW-Ch. 11.

(Victoria Hardy contributed to this report.)

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