'Tell Them We Are Rising': The Documentary On HBCUs America Needed

The country's first short-film on historically black colleges and universities (aka HBCUs) will bring the timeless contributions of the institutions to everyone’s attention.

The vitality of historically black colleges and universities has been questioned from time to time, specifically when there was a noticeable decline in enrollment and retention-graduation rates.

However, Stanley Nelson, an award-winning filmmaker, has put together a much-needed documentary, which primarily aims to highlight the fact that despite facing several challenges, HBCUs continue to contribute to the American society.

“Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story Of Black College And Universities” is a documentary that aired on PBS as a part of The Independent Lens series on Feb. 19.

Nelson’s efforts are directed at capturing the evolution of HBCUs over the years and how their impact isn’t limited to the welfare of an individual but their role is pivotal to the economy too.

He has also addressed people who are completely unaware about black colleges.

“They have been very central to making change. If you do not know anything about black colleges, you will learn a lot,” the filmmaker said. 

The documentary, Nelson added, has also elucidated the events that occurred over 179 years of American history, from the time when teaching a slave was considered an offense, befitting a punishment, to the present-day. 

“Mainly there are stories that most people do not know. The killing of students at Southern University by law enforcement in 1972, which there is actual footage. We talk to students who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Woolworth sit-ins by students at North Carolina A&T, and we also talk a little about Morris Brown College,” Nelson remarked.

The filmmaker also recounted his experience of how collecting, not all, but a notable amount of HBCUs stories, was not a walk in the park. It took around five years of thought process, raising funds and two years of production to form this documentary.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) stated in their November report that HBCUs contribute nearly $15 billion annually to the economy.

“HBCUS are not just providing degrees and employing tens of thousands of people,” Dr. Brian Bridges, UNCF vice president of research and members engagement told NBC News. “Most people are not aware of how HBCUs drive economic impact. They produce 134,000 jobs. Their graduates go on to work at some of the country’s top Fortune 500 companies. That is substantial.”

While Bridges said the credibility of HBCUs is clear, the focus now must underscore the impact they create economically.

The collective efforts of Nelson, Bridge and UNCF aim to circulate HBCUs’ goodwill, so that the communal benefit it is creating is not just acknowledged by students who study there but all beneficiaries. 

“HBCUs change lives. They changed my parents’ lives, which change my life, which has changed my kids’ lives, which lives on for generations and generations. The impact is amazing and it is important that others know that,” Nelson said.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters

View Comments

Recommended For You