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“Network is your net worth. I know for me personally when I came in as a freshman I was very shy and I had to learn the hard way to advocate and speak up for myself. You are your biggest advocate when you go to college when you’re dealing with your advisors, peers, and the financial aid office”.

– Amber Reese, Strategic Consultant for Workforce Readiness.

Each April, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB) organizes an enriching journey that transcends the usual boundaries of educational trips: the HBCU Tour. This annual expedition is not just a tour; it’s an exploration into the heart of historically black colleges and universities, offering a profound look at the educational, cultural, and career opportunities these institutions provide. 

The HBCU Tour is an integral component of the College Club’s curriculum at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB). Designed to prepare high school-aged Club members for higher education.

“Members are eligible for the tour if they enroll in College Club and attend at least 22 classes out of 30. College Club is designed to teach members the fundamentals of the college process through five units- Early Planning, Application Process, Financial Aid, College Life, Historically Black Colleges and Universities. College Club consists of interactive activities, panels and guest speakers,” Explains Saaran Sillah, Yawkey Club of Roxbury’s Career Pathways Manager.

BGCB Members touring Clark Atlanta University.

This event was coordinated by Saaran Sillah, Yawkey Club of Roxbury’s College Pathway’s Manager, who has been coordinating the tour for the past 5 years. Through her time spearheading the HBCU tour Sila has expanded the tour to go beyond the Yawkey Club which has been the only Club involved in the tour since its conception. Now, the tour welcomes members from the Berkshire Blue Hill Club who started joining as of 2019, as well as the Edgerley Family South Boston Club who has just recently joined the tour in 2023.

“In the past 20 years, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) tour has maintained a longstanding tradition, and for the last five years, I have had the privilege of spearheading its organization and leadership. In this capacity, my responsibilities encompass a range of important tasks, including scheduling all tours at educational institutions, securing hotel accommodations, meticulously planning the travel itinerary, coordinating with transportation company/bus driver to ensure adherence to schedules, arranging engaging activities, and facilitating necessary administrative procedures by setting meetings with club staff. Through meticulous attention to detail and effective communication, I have diligently overseen the execution of each tour, ensuring its continued success and meaningful impact on members,” states Sillah.

This year the HBCU Tour had 31 members participating which consisted of 20 members from Yawkey, 7 members from Blue Hill, and 5 members from South Boston. This collaboration highlights BGCB’s commitment to providing diverse educational experiences that empower our youth and prepare them for future academic and professional success.

“All three clubs collaborated to organize a combined college club session to ensure that all eligible members were well-prepared for the tour and knowledgeable about the college process. Each club took turns hosting and adhered to a shared curriculum, ensuring consistent knowledge dissemination and minimizing duplication of information among members,” Sillah says.

In addition to the 31 Club Members who attended, we had 7 staff members from each Club involved, including Saaran Sillah, Obie Christmas, Adeja Tavares, Ezaura Mazza, Kiara Powell, Zoe Turner, and Fernando Phillips. These staff helped build the culture of the tour and positively impacted the members on the trip, pushing them to get involved and network.

Local Motion bus driver, Woody (left), along with BGCB Staff (left to right) Fernando Phillips, Kiara Powell, Zoe Turner, Saaran Sillah, Obie Christmas, Adeja Tavares, and Ezaura Mazza.

The Significance of the HBCU Tour

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played a pivotal role in American education, especially for the African American community, by providing spaces that not only advance academic excellence but also cultivate cultural affirmation and understanding. The HBCU Tour, a staple during BGCB’s April break, offers club members a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the vibrant campuses, rich history, and dynamic student life that HBCUs offer. 

This year’s BGCB HBCU tour included visits to prominent institutions like Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University, among others. The tour provided club members from various BGCB locations, an in-depth look into the campuses where generations of leaders have been molded. At many of the schools visited there were Club Alumni there to greet members and share their experience at their HBCU. 

“Throughout the five years, I had 21 alum that attend or graduated from an HBCU. Some HBCUs that were not included this year are Howard University, North Carolina A & T, Xavier University (LA), Texas A&M,” describes Sillah.

Club members explored a broad array of career pathways available at HBCUs, delving into majors such as Political Science, Business Administration, and Acting. Additionally, they gained insights into the illustrious legacy of HBCU alumni, including luminaries such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, and Chadwick Boseman, who exemplify the profound impact of these institutions in nurturing leaders and change makers. 

Alongside educational visits, the tour was packed with cultural enrichment activities. Club members explored significant sites such as the National African American Museum in Washington D.C., the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and even enjoyed some leisure time at the American Dream Mall and Six Flags in New Jersey.  

Each stop was an opportunity to learn, reflect, and grow, making the HBCU tour a comprehensive educational experience that extended beyond classroom walls. 

Whether or not the club members decide to attend an HBCU, the exposure to these institutions is invaluable. It broadens their educational horizons and deepens their appreciation of the significant role these universities play in promoting higher education and social justice.  

One member who attended said, “Even if I don’t attend any of these schools, I still get the chance to say that I went and got to see them.” 

By touring campuses and interacting with students and faculty, BGCB members gain insights that go beyond conventional college tours, discovering the profound impact of HBCUs on students and communities alike.

BGCB Members touring Spelman College.

The Healthcare Career Panel

A key component of this year’s tour was the Healthcare Career Panel, set up by Amber Reese, BGCB’s strategic consultant for workforce readiness. Reese is also a Spelman College Alumna.  

Held at the Joseph B. Whitehead Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, this panel was a highlight of the Atlanta stop by integrating students from Spelman and Morehouse to share their experiences as healthcare majors.  

The panelists consisted of Spelman students Bella Morris (Sophomore Health Science Major on the Pre-Med Track), Jadyn Jones (Sophomore Health Science Major on the Pre-Med Track), and Joelina Jones- Sophomore (Health Science Major on the Pre-Med Track).  

Morehouse panelists were Spelman Monroe Henry (Sophomore Biological Sciences Major), Patrick Dennis (Junior Psychology Major), and Laquinton Gaines (Sophomore Finance Major and Math Minor). 

These discussions covered essential topics such as maintaining a high GPA, managing time effectively to making connections on campus.  

“A big thing is you want to make connections with faculty. You don’t want to get on campus and just party. You want to make connections with the people that’s going to be there for you when you need that scholarship and don’t have enough for tuition. When you need an extension on your final to pass. Faculty I have teachers on campus I can call auntie or unc, school mom, school dad. I can call them my family because they look out for me when I need it” says Patrick Dennis, Junior at Morehouse College. 

The transparency of the panelists provided BGCB members with a realistic view of college life and prepared them for the challenges they might face. 

BGCB Members pictured with Healthcare Career Panelists.

Learning from Experiences

The students from Morehouse and Spelman were candid about their experiences on campus, providing a balanced perspective that is crucial for prospective college students.  

They discussed various strategies to overcome common obstacles, such as utilizing campus resources for academic support, engaging in community and extracurricular activities to enhance their college experience, and strategies for effective financial management while studying. 

Laquinton Gaines, a Morehouse student advised club members to, “get involved, especially at Morehouse if you’re not involved nobody knows who you are. It’s not a popularity contest but you want people to know who you are and you want to make an impact on this campus. That’s how you get more doors open for yourself”. 

Spelman panelist, Bella Morris discussed her challenges with her past courses she’s taken at Spelman. “The hardest class I’ve taken is cell biology. I took it last semester with Joelina at 8am and we had a disconnect with the teacher, so it really affected the way I was working and my motivation. We still passed, it was a lot, but we just helped each other. Joelina and I were helping each other every single day”. 

Panelists (left to right) Laquinton Gaines, Bella Morris, Spelman Monroe Henry, Amber Reese, Joelina Jones, Patrick Dennis, and Jayden Jones.

This interaction was not just about sharing challenges but also about inspiring the club members. Joelina and Bella shared how although they had a challenging time in class, they were able to work through it together and pass. 

The HBCU students emphasized how overcoming these challenges has been part of their growth journey, instilling in the BGCB members the confidence that they too can succeed in a similar environment. 

“Being able to pour back into my community to students who look up to me was such a full circle moment because at one point that was me” says, Joelina Jones. 

A Collaborative Effort

The success of the Healthcare Career Panel speaks volumes about Amber Reese’s vision to expand the Pathways Bridge to Healthcare program. By integrating direct experiences from current HBCU students in healthcare fields, the panel provided practical insights and encouragement to BGCB members, aligning with BGCB’s mission to empower youth to reach their full potential. 

We are especially grateful to the Joseph B. Whitehead Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta for hosting this event. Their hospitality not only facilitated this important educational activity but also reinforced the sense of community and support that is vital for such initiatives. 

The Impact

The HBCU Tour and the Healthcare Career Panel are prime examples of how BGCB leverages educational and career exploration opportunities to benefit its members.  

Through this tour members were able to learn more about HBCU’s and understand the dynamic culture within them. Many members had bias about HBCU’s before attending the tour that they realized were untrue upon visiting these schools.  

“I did have biases that HBCU’s don’t have the same caliber of education as PWI’s. After touring 10 schools that is false and I enjoyed learning about the rich history at each school along with what the school has to offer. 

Whitehead Club Director Mario Mason with Amber Reese and Andrea Swain, BGCB Chief Impact Officer.

“I thought from word of mouth that they were either all party schools, “ghetto” and overall, just not good. But this tour proved those stereotypes all wrong”. 

These comments from club members illustrates the importance of exploratory learning opportunities like the HBCU tour to further expand our members knowledge of the world outside of The Club.  

Additionally, to challenging bias’s the HBCU Tour allowed members to explore the campuses in a way that made them feel welcome and at home, this allowed our members to feel confident about where they wanted to attend. There were six seniors who committed to HBCU’s after attending the tour this year, Trinity H., Neveah M., Jaquan H. and Talia Scott are planning to attend Norfolk State University in the fall. Additionally, Lianna S. is going to attend Delaware State University and Kyla H. will be attending Hampton University.

As BGCB continues to forge paths toward educational and career readiness, the HBCU tour remains a cornerstone of their efforts, combining cultural heritage, educational excellence, and career preparation into a transformative experience for Boston’s youth. 

Curious to learn more about BGCB? Learn more and get involved today.