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City Councilors on the Importance of HBCUs to Birmingham — and Vice Versa

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City Council Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Council President Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman doesn’t just know about the HBCU experience. She’s lived it.

Smitherman is a graduate of Hampton University a Historically Black College and University in Virginia. Her mother, Judge Carole Smitherman, of Jefferson County’s 10th Judicial Circuit, attended Spelman College in Atlanta before earning a law degree at Miles College in Fairfield, where her father Alabama Sen. Rodger Smitherman also got his law degree.

Smitherman’s mother even taught law at Miles.

 “I definitely think a lot of my morals, my values, my leadership skills came from going to an HBCU…they were able to really hone in on my potential, my leadership skills. They give you great opportunities. I learned so much more as an African American about my own history, and just the general support that they have given me,” Crystal Smitherman said.

On March 17-19, Birmingham will host alumni, advocates, and allies of HBCUs for a weekend of networking, professional development and receptions.

Across the two days at locations across the downtown area, as far north as City Walk and as far south as Michael’s, attendees can take part in a three-hour long “career incubator” session from sponsor Indeed, win scholarships, attend a wine tasting for Black-owned wineries, a tennis clinic and get togethers.

One of the most anticipated events will be “School Daze: The Yard” on March 18 in Linn Park from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. with guest DJs, games, vendor tents, food trucks and more.

Exposure to Black people in a variety of professions is also critical, Pro Tem Smitherman said.

“I think it’s just so important that young, Black people see people that look just like them in a professional setting, ‘that I can be a Black doctor, I can be a Black attorney, I can be a Black architect, I can be a Black engineer’ because a lot of people are raised not really seeing a lot of people that look like them,” she said.

The City Council approved $165,000 to support the festivities.

In addition to the fun that attendees will experience, the HBCU SpringComing also provides an opportunity for young people to advance themselves, said Councilor Carol Clarke.

“[The event] hits on so many levels, and I think it will be a great opportunity for our young people, a place to connect and meet other young people. This is really huge, especially the opportunities for corporations to recruit young, diverse talent,” said Clarke.

Council President Wardine Alexander said SpringComing is a good opportunity to show young professionals and students from around the U.S. what the city “has to offer in terms of careers, entertainment and higher education.”

Council President Wardine Alexander

“In addition to hosting the Magic City Classic, which is the largest annual HBCU event in the country, it’s important that we continue to position Birmingham as a leader for these types of events that celebrate HBCUs and Black excellence,” said Alexander.

Councilor J.T. Moore, who chairs the council’s Education committee, said it’s crucial that people give HBCUs support to provide “a top-notch education.”

Councilor J.T. Moore

“I think, for a very long time, a lot of people have seen HBCUs as the second choice, but it’s great to finally start seeing where young people are wanting to go to the Tuskegees and the Morehouses,” Moore said.

While Moore graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he spent his freshman year at Tuskegee University.

“Having professors that understood me and … were able to speak to that even in their lectures, like they were able to connect certain things that they were teaching to things that they knew for a fact we had gone through, and always just being able to have that collective experience, it just made the education seem a whole lot better,” Moore said.

SpringComing is an event that can also encourage alumni from HBCUs to be further involved in guiding and supporting the students before they graduate, the councilor said.

“Having events like this just reinvigorates alumni associations to, number one, just connect with one another but then also give them the opportunity to come together to say…this is the ultimate goal that we have, to ensure that these young people know about our alma mater, and that they are able to be successful when they attend,” Moore said.

For more information or to RSVP, go to https://www.hbcuspringcoming.com.

Click here to read another HBCU-related story.