Making Connections at HBCUs


Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III of St. James UMC in Kansas City considered several colleges when he was in high school but had an offer that made his decision easy: a basketball scholarship to Philander Smith for him and his twin brother. 

From a young age, Cleaver had been educated in predominantly white schools. He looked forward to the experience of a Historically Black College and University. 

“I didn’t learn history until I was in college,” he said. “I don’t call it Black history because it was just history without the Black people removed from it. I was learning for the first time about historical Black people and the unique perspectives that they had.”

He was also learning a lot from conversations with his new friends outside of the classroom. 
“It was interesting to meet people from all over – California, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and hear about the different experiences they had,” Cleaver said. “It was the first time I had ever met someone who was a member of the Nation of Islam.” 
The faculty at the school was diverse, with Cleaver’s advisor being from the West Indies. 

Basketball wasn’t the easiest road to college. Philander Smith would often accept paid invitations to play much larger schools. 

“We ended up being a sacrificial lamb,” Cleaver said. “I think now they do a better job of scheduling schools that are similar in size.”

Cleaver’s daughter, who is in high school, completed a tour of HBCU’s as she considers where she wants to go to college. 

While in college, becoming a pastor was “the furthest thing from my mind,” Cleaver said. Somewhat ironically, he first responded and was first called to ministry during his senior year when at Freaknic, a large spring break party in Atlanta primarily attended by college students from HBCUs. The party grew so wild through the years that the city of Atlanta sometimes shut it down. Cleaver and his friends were there heading out to the party. 

“We got in the car, we all heard, ‘You know, one day I’m going to be a preacher.’ When everyone looked at me, I realized that I was the one who said it,” Cleaver said. 

“I didn’t know why I said it, it had never crossed my mind before, but at that moment, I said it for some reason.”

Party plans for the evening continued unabated. But later, Cleaver started reflecting on that moment a lot and eventually accepted the call. 

Cleaver’s father, Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, attended Prairie View, an HBCU land-grant university in Texas. Some of his siblings and their children attended there as well. “Our family has a long history with HBCUs,” Cleaver said. 
Rev. Jackie McCall
Also at St. James, Rev. Jackie McCall has HBCUs in her education experience. She attended high school at Ladue Horton Watkins in St. Louis in the late 1980s. In a predominantly White school, she and some of her friends were engaged in some activism and started a Black club. 

They decided they would attend HBCUs, and they did, spreading out to different HBCUs around the country. 

“I knew that was where I wanted to be by the time I was a senior in high school,” McCall said. “I wanted to be around other like-minded people and experience an environment that was empowering for a young Black woman seeking to learn more.”

She started at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana, and had a great experience living in the dorms and making new friends. After her freshman year, she decided to transfer to Clark Atlanta University, seeking a more metropolitan experience. Clark is in the same part of town as Morehouse College, Spelman College and Morris Brown College. 

“It was a great experience,” she said. She lived off-campus and had a job but still made time to be involved in clubs and sororities. 

McCall was a Baptist growing up, and rather than drifting away from religion in her college years, it was a time when she deepened her faith. 

“I started really seeking God on my own for the first time, and I rededicated my life to Christ,” she said. 

McCall’s younger sister went to Lincoln University, an HBCU in Jefferson City and she has several family members that went to various HBCUs. 

“It was great to be surrounded by people from all over who were there because they wanted to expand their education,” McCall said. “HBCUs do a good job of encouraging everyone to step up, put their footprint on the world and make a difference. They encouraged us to be our best. It was almost like an auntie who would pull you aside and tell you to get it together. We had a real sense of family.”

The Black College Fund Prepares the Way

One of the most significant ways The United Methodist Church helps make quality education accessible to all is through The Black College Fund. In 1972, The UMC established The Black College Fund to provide a constant, reliable approach to support United Methodist historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) related to the church. The fund supports eleven HBCUs —the largest number of Black colleges and universities receiving funding from any church body in the United States.

These 11 institutions play an essential role in shaping diverse young leaders for the church and the world. UM-related HBCUs offer a chance to everyone with a dream and a commitment to excel — regardless of race, class, gender or ethnic heritage.

A Legacy of Leadership

The UM-related HBCUs are responsible for educating some of the world’s most effective and recognized leaders. That impressive cadre includes preachers, district superintendents, bishops, college professors and presidents, general agency staff, legislators, and community leaders.

Among the well-known graduates of the 11 United Methodist HBCUs are Dr. Joycelyn Elders, a 1952 graduate of Philander Smith College and the first African-American and the second woman to serve as the U.S. surgeon general, and James L. Farmer Jr., a 1938 Wiley College graduate and civil rights leader who helped found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

These schools and their graduates have a rich legacy of service and are a source of great pride in their communities.

Continuing a Rich Tradition

Colleges supported by The Black College Fund are able to keep tuition relatively low, so students with modest incomes may attend. The fund gives the participating colleges and universities the finances they need to support college staff and faculty who can serve as strong intellectual, cultural and spiritual mentors. The fund also supports intern programs to enrich communication skills. Through The Black College Fund, we’re working together to ensure that the institutions that have equipped our nation’s finest leaders continue for years to come.

Make a Difference Today 

On average, United Methodist congregations provide between 87 and 89 percent of the funds apportioned for The Black College Fund. This is achieved through the UMC’s special giving structure, which ensures your generosity blesses as many people as possible in sustainable, strategic ways. More than 95 percent of all proceeds of the fund flow directly to HBCU campuses, where they help to strengthen programs, provide vital infrastructure and keep tuition costs low. These colleges are and always have been open to all. .

Encourage your local church to give faithfully to The Black College Fund through your apportionments, or contact the fund at to inquire about individual donations. For more details on the Black College Fund visit