As the countdown begins to the most controversy moment of the year, the HBCU Campaign Fund (HCF) organization stands in support of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos delivering the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University on Wednesday, May 10th at 12 noon.

The 11th U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

There are a mass number of disagreement towards the commencement address speaker. Conversely,  I came to an understanding of everyone’s reasoning. Notwithstanding, neither do I agree with the outroar of individual’s reaction towards DeVos nor President Jackson and his administration decision. I also do not agree with the comparison of DeVos and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. What Dr. Bethune left is her legacy of faith, scholarship, and service and that’s what exactly should be accountable during this exhilarating moment of excellence. As you come to your milestone of celebrating an accomplishment that is another tremendous step in life, DeVos as a speaker should be the one less thing in mind at that given time.

Yes, DeVos said historically black colleges and universities were pioneers of school choice but students, alumni, and supporters know exactly what the historic background of HBCU’s are and what they stand for as of today. HBCU’s current relied on the federal support such as from the Department of Education either you like or not and they also are institutions that are open to all races no matter of the founding background. Accordingly, to what Dr. Jackson stated, Dr. Bethune relied on support from leaders in order to get the institution off the ground regarding their feelings of what type of institution it is. As we move through the millennial that federal support is more crucial than ever, it’s very vital that HBCU leaders continue to invite political leaders to their institution’s state and federal. Even Dr. Bethune once worked in federal as an advisor on minority affairs in the Roosevelt Administration, was given a chance to organize two national conferences on the problems of black Americans.

Leaving us her last will & testament, she left us racial dignity, stating that we must learn to also share and mix with men (and women too). We must make an effort to be less race conscious of individual and human values. Consequently, I take it in as to be mindful of what DeVos said regarding HBCU’s but continue to grow and learn from it as well as relying on the institutional support from these individuals. If they are uneducated regarding an HBCU, let’s educate and school them, lead them in the correct direction of what an HBCU serves in academic excellence.

As referring to life lessons, God forgives and gives his children second chances repeatedly and DeVos deserves a second chance in stepping on an HBCU campus and serving as commencement speaker at Bethune-Cookman University. You never know, what she has in store as a speech and may even be regretful of her comment towards HBCU’s. Enter to learn, Depart to serve is a motto of what Dr. Bethune founded more than 145 years ago, which she left the responsibility to young people that are to not be discouraged from aspiring toward greatness, for they are to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Expand beyond your horizons. Let this be the most forgettable commencement no matter the outcome of DeVos speech, walk across the stage, grasp your degree with eagerness and step into the world with faith, dignity, ambition and responsibility as career seekers of a high-skilled paying jobs. Do not forget to support your HBCU forevermore and to give, give, give back in support. Nevertheless, for future college-seekers DeVos as a speaker should not take a toll on your admission decision to BCU. Continue your dream and the legacy because the legacy Dr. Bethune relied on faith and without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.

I am Black History. I am Black excellence. I am Mary McLeod Bethune, who was an educator and civil rights activist.

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Mary McLeod Bethune with the graduating class of Literary and Industrial Training School in 1928.

I was born in 1875 in a small log cabin near Mayesville, South Carolina, on a rice and cotton farm. I was the fiftieth of seventeen children born to former slaves. I attended Mayesville one-room black schoolhouse, Trinity Mission School, which was run by the Presbyterian Board of Missions of Freedmen. I was the only child in my family to attend school; I walked five miles each day to and from school. My teacher, Emma Jane Wilson become a significant mentor in my life, she helped me attend Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College on scholarship from 1888to 1893. I graduated from Scotia Seminary in 1893.

After graduating from the seminary, I went to Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (also know as Moody Institute) in Chicago, hoping to become a missionary in Africa. I completed my studies there two years later. Returning to the south, I began my career as a teacher.

For nearly a decade, I worked as an educator. I worked as a teacher briefly at my former elementary school in Sumter County. In 1896, I began teaching at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia. During this year, the National Association of Colored Women was formed to promote the needs of black women. I served as the Florida chapter president from 1917 to 1925. I was elected as national president in 1924. After one year at Haines, I was transferred by the Presbyterian mission to the Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina, where I met my future husband. I married fellow teacher Albertus Bethune in 1898. We had one son together Albert McLeod Bethune before our marriage ended in 1907.

I believed that education provided the key to racial advancement. So I moved to Florida, determined to start a school for girls. I moved from Palatka to Daytona, because it had more economic opportunities. In October 1904, I rented a small house for $11.00 per month. I made benches and desks from discarded crates and acquired other items through charity. I used $1.50 to start the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. I initially had six students, with five girls aged six to twelve, and my son Albert. Parents of the students and church members raised money by making sweet potato pies, ice cream, and fried fish, and selling them to crews at the Daytona dump.

In the early days, the students made ink for pens from elderberry juice, and pencils from burned wood. The school received donations of money, equipment, and labor from local black churches. Within’ a year, I was teaching more than 30 girls at the school. I also courted wealthy white organizations, such as the ladies’ Palmetto Club. I invited influential white men to sit on my school board of trustees, gaining participation by James Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble) and Thomas H. White (of White Sewing Machines).

Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute visited in 1912; he advised me of the importance of gaining support by white benefactors for funding. I had met with Washington in 1896 and was impressed by his clout with his donors. As I traveled, I seek donations to keep my school operating. A donation of $62, 000 by John D. Rockefeller helped, as well as my friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife in the 1930s.

In 1930, President Herbert Hoover appointed me to the White House Conference on Child Health. In 1935, I founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York City, bringing together representatives of 28 different organizations to work to improve the lives of black women and their communities.

In 1931, the Methodist Church helped the merger of my school with the boys’ Cookman Institute, forming the Bethune-Cookman College, a coeducational junior college. I became president. Through the Great Depression, my school continued to operate and met the educational standards of the State of Florida. From 1936 to 1942, I cut back my time as president because of duties in Washington, D.C. Funding declined during that period of my absence. However, by 1941, the college had developed a four-year curriculum and achieved full college status. In 1942, I gave up my presidency, as my health was being adversely affected by my many responsibilities.

On May 18, 1955, I died of a heart attack. In 1973, I was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Join HBCU Campaign Fund for Black History Month “I Am’s,” exhibiting the outstanding achievements of well-known Black individuals who has contributed to the Black community and beyond.

If you would like to contribute an “I Am” of your all-time favorite Black pioneer to be featured, you may e-mail your “I Am” to support@hbcucampaignfund.org.