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The article begins below.


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do you see us all trying to go back to our home?

to the real life/natural? freedom?

do you see us all trying to love? 

are we on the 

                      right path?

— Ericka Huggins, an excerpt from the poem, "after looking at a picture of an indiansisterwoman"


As I think about the times we are living in, particularly during Women’s History Month, this poem from Ericka Huggins, a daughter of Lincoln University and lauded pioneer within the Black Panther Party, sets a remarkable tone. We are living in extraordinary times, in a country and a world amid a reckoning and redefining. Together, we are changing how we communicate, convene and challenge ourselves, systems and each other. Like Ericka, we all want to get back to our home —a place that welcomes us and feels familiar despite the countless alterations we have experienced.

My awareness of the histories we are currently surviving is heightened when I think about today's youth. As an alumna and president of the nation's first degree-granting HBCU, Lincoln University, I see, more often than I prefer, students contending with these new norms layered over enduring historical biases and inequities in education. Rather than work from the prevalent assumption of broken children, Lincoln chooses to forge a path steeped in remedying broken systems that debilitate schools, students, teachers and families through our intentional academic and social programming.

Particularly for Black students, students of color, immigrant families and those with unmet economic needs, the effects of these times will need critically thoughtful, humane approaches from secondary and post-secondary/higher education institutions. I recognize that the ways Lincoln supports our new and future students must reflect coming-to-be in these times where youth are rightfully optimistic about their futures, yet obstructed by new and constant characteristics of systemic inequities. 

I grew up in Newark, New Jersey. My neighborhood and schools were racially and socioeconomically segregated. I had never been a "minority" and was not ready to become one in the fall of 1977 when I decided to attend Lincoln University. Although I had no idea what a historically Black college was, Lincoln University did not welcome me to a marginal community — the culture was whole, familiar and full of people like me from across the country. That appealed to me. I count the choice to attend Lincoln as one of the best decisions I ever made. Lincoln made room for me and became a home away from Newark. I received a rigorous education, one that prepared me to tackle the Ivy League when I accepted a post-doctoral position at Yale University a decade later.

Through my presidency, I am committed to ensuring that every student that comes through Lincoln’s gates is invited into a home away from home. Just as Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver and I did when we came from Newark, New Jersey, or as Councilwomen Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones Sánchez did when they came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa did when arriving from Namibia, or the first woman President of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Dr. Soraya M. Coley, did when she walked through these gates from Goldsboro, North Carolina. The tradition of finding a new home at Lincoln University will never change.

Throughout my career, I have challenged popular theories about Black underachievement that either unfairly align African Americans and school failure because of some invented inferiority, or that espoused deficits in the culture as the locus of Black children's school struggle. These ideas did not speak to my own lived experiences.

I first encountered these notions while still in high school. We were studying the concept of intelligence in my psychology class when the teacher remarked that intellectually, Black people were genetically inferior to whites. As a Black girl sitting in an advanced placement class, I found this comment incomprehensible. This very classroom in my predominantly Black high school told me that students of color were represented at every academic level. We were in the advanced and remedial classes. We were everywhere.

Moreover, I knew many people who had not made it to high school; yet, I knew for a fact that they were absolutely brilliant. Black boys in my neighborhood played seven basketball games, kept all the scores in their heads and knew who had to pay for the refreshments when the game was over. Black women in my life cooked gourmet meals without measuring cups, on stretched budgets without accounting courses, calculators or culinary school. And these people are not mythical; they and we exist through generations and circumstances. So, my teacher's proclamation that Black people were insufferable and inferior to white people did not match this Black girl's experiences. I do not own experiences like that one in a silo. Unfortunately, today, more than 45 years later, there is another Black girl in Newark or another city that is embattled between what she is being told about herself and what she knows.

Writing this during Women’s History Month, I am thoughtful about a younger me and young Black children who need spaces and places that proudly sing a new song that emboldens curiosity about themselves. It is my job to make sure those spaces and places exist. I am proud to say that decades later, the University I came to as a 17-year-old Black girl still holds the same intangible, yet familiar quality I remember. I am in awe that the young girl who entered this campus as a student is now the president of — what I consider — one of the greatest assets in Black history. Lincoln was founded to liberate the next generation of leaders, and everyone at the University is centered in the same philosophies.

In honor of celebrating women, I would be remiss if I did not offer a personal message to a younger me and young Black girls and women who may feel erased by reductive narratives about us. Your genius is the storm. Systems and people may try to trim pieces of you to fit into theories that drench you with pessimism, and they will rain, but you are the storm. When I was told that I (and my community) was inferior in high school, I created a storm that carried a young Black girl from Newark, New Jersey, to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania as a student and now its president. 

Create thunder, lighting and monsoons with your genius. We are the storm.

In closing, just as I was in 1977, I am thinking critically about what it means to be a student at Lincoln University today and tomorrow. As students across the country navigate the uncertainties and changes of our world, please know that institutions like Lincoln are thinking critically about your brilliance first and not your deficits — and this is intentional.

We are creating space for you to find academic rigor, community and, most importantly, a new place to call home. 

do you see us all trying to go back to our home?

to the real life/natural? freedom?

do you see us all trying to love? 

are we on the 

                      right path?

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Dr. Brenda Allen is the 14th President of the first HBCU, Lincoln University.

For more information about Lincoln University, please visit: lincoln.edu.