Partners, Volume 13, Number 1, 2003

Higher Learning Brings New Life to Neighborhoods
By Janet Hamer

For generations Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have partnered with their communities to identify and address local community development needs. This year, nine colleges and universities in the Federal Reserve's Sixth District will receive $4.7 million through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand their roles and increase their effectiveness in revitalizing distressed neighborhoods near their campuses. These awards are part of HUD's Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grant Program, which will provide $10.7 million to 22 HBCUs nationwide.

The HBCU Grant Program helps fund projects designed primarily to benefit low- and moderate-income residents, including plans to prevent or eliminate slums and blight. Grants fund such activities as real estate acquisition, demolition costs, home ownership assistance, special economic development activities and rehabilitation of residential, commercial or industrial buildings to correct code violations.

Alabama HBCUs partner with local community

Through its Community Development Corporation (CDC), Gadsden State Community College in Alabama partners with the Gadsden Housing Authority to serve the surrounding low-income community. Together they work to provide job training and placement, welfare-to-work initiatives, health care and wellness programs, family and early childhood education programs, plus workshops on business development, homeownership and personal finances.

Gadsden State cooperates with HUD Neighborhood Networks Community Development Centers, as well, to provide computer laboratories, fair housing seminars and job skill development workshops. The new grant will help to continue this initiative, which began in 1998. Gadsden CDC will also use the grant to expand its service area, including new ventures in housing and neighborhood revitalization, economic development and community-based education support services.

According to Dr. Brenda Crowe, Dean of Institutional Advancement & Community Services at Gadsden State, "The success of our program can be attributed to a close relationship with our community partners even before the existence of the HBCU funds. Also, the flexibility of these funds allows us to use creativity in our mission to meet the community's needs."

Stillman College in Tuscaloosa is another Alabama HBCU utilizing its grant to continue ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts. Stillman's CDC, which rehabilitates commercial businesses and homes surrounding the school, will join forces with a local bank and another CDC to renovate existing houses and construct new affordable single-family houses. Other initiatives in progress include job skills training and job placement for neighborhood residents.

Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee has a long and successful history of working in partnership with distressed communities. Through its Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce, FAMU has hosted statewide CDC conferences for the past four years. The conferences feature best practices in community revitalization strategies, bringing together CDCs and their partners from throughout Florida.

Since its inception, the institute has assisted residents of distressed neighborhoods with training through its Self Employment Institute. This six-week program teaches prospective business owners how to write business plans, create financial strategies for their businesses and utilize public relations skills to promote success. As a result of this program, 22 businesses have opened in the Tallahassee area. The latest grant will be used to enhance this CDC's work through direct community and economic development services to residents in nine low-income census tracts in Tallahassee's Leon County, adjacent to Gadson County, and in the Jackson County Florida Enterprise Community.

"The HUD's HBCU allocation to FAMU has assisted in strengthening our partnership with our local Big Bend Faith-based Coalition. Our funds have been used to partner with our faith-based institutions to provide microloans for the emergence of six small businesses in the targeted communities as well as the rehabilitation of four houses," says Dr. Patricia McGill, Director of FAMU's Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce.

Additional plans include establishing a business incubator to enhance educational and training programs designed to help low-income persons obtain jobs. FAMU also plans to develop a mixed-use commercial corridor that will merge the cultural amenities of the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center with those of FAMU.

HBCUs making a difference

HBCUs throughout the Sixth District are creating sustainable strategies for positive change in their neighborhoods and communities. Through relationships with groups that share their goals and by leveraging other funding sources, they are rebuilding distressed communities and neighborhood trust. Central to all of the successful development efforts are active partnerships with their communities, neighborhood organizations and local governments. These HBCU programs not only revitalize neighborhoods, but they also provide "real life" training and service opportunities for students.

HBCU Grant Awards in the Sixth District
Alabama    Louisiana
  Gadsden State Community College, Gadsden $424,000     Dillard University, New Orleans $550,000
  Shelton St. Community College, Tuscaloosa $549,990     Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge $550,000
  Stillman College, Tuscaloosa $524,790        
Florida     Mississippi  
  Florida A&M University, Tallahassee $524,674     Alcorn State University, Lorman $497,929
Georgia     Tennessee  
  Morehouse College, Atlanta $526,414     Fisk University, Nashville $550,000

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