36 Renton students to tour Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Georgia

There are no Historically Black Colleges and Universities — or HBCUs — west of Texas and Oklahoma so the Renton School District is funding a trip for Black sophomores and juniors to explore more post-high school opportunities.

While most students are sleeping in and hanging out with friends during spring break, 36 select sophomores and juniors throughout the Renton School District will be touring Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on the only trip of its kind.

Ten students from Lindbergh High School, 11 students from Renton High School, 10 students from Hazen High School and five students from Tally will travel to Georgia from April 9-14 and tour several HBCUs in a program that was spearheaded by GEAR UP district coordinator Kirsten Thornton and Lindbergh High academic advancement coordinator Shaquille Blair-Kimber.

“We are very diverse with a large population of Black students and staff,” said Thornton of the students in the Renton School District. “But this experience at an HBCU, you wouldn’t have it anywhere else. It’s an opportunity to give students a chance to see the climate of the South and give our students something that will help them see themselves.”

The HBCU trip was the idea of both Blair-Kimber and Curtis Riggins, a safety officer for the Renton School District. “Last year was my first year, and I came in with ideas to be innovative with new opportunities,” said Riggins.

The students will tour several different schools, which include Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University. Spelman and Agnes Scott are both all-female schools while Morehouse is all-male.

The trip is fully funded by the Renton School District’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) and comes at no cost to students.

“School districts don’t usually fund this sort of thing,” Thornton said. “It’s usually community-based and requires students to pay for the trip.”

To experience the tour, potential students had to fill out a formal application, answer demographic questions and write 250-300 word essays for different essay questions. A panel then went through and read each application, and students from each school were selected before an interview process narrowed it down.

Thornton, Blair-Kimber and Riggins will accompany the 36 sophomores and juniors with a total of eight chaperones, which includes Clarence Baber, a GEAR UP coordinator at Lindbergh High.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 107 HBCUs in the U.S. and they are all located as far west as Oklahoma and Texas, so there are no HBCUs in Washington state.

“HBCUs are a whole experience in and of itself,” said Thornton, adding that there is always a push for students to attend in-state colleges, so this tour is meant to open doors for Renton’s Black students.

“A lot of kids in Renton don’t have that opportunity,” said Riggins, who is also the founder of Filling In Generational Gaps (FIGG), a local youth mentoring organization.

Thornton, Blair-Kimber, Baber and Riggins did not attend HBCUs themselves, but all said they would have benefitted from being HBCU students. Riggins, who is currently attending classes at Renton Technical College, said that his life would have been shaped differently, while Blair-Kimber, a Central Washington University alumnus, said that he would have explored more.

“It would be nice to be surrounded by people who look like me,” said Thornton, who did her undergraduate studies at the University of Washington. “Being mixed, you fight for that identity. People are just looking for a place they belong and connect to their Blackness and I didn’t feel like [HBCU] was a place for me.”

Baber attended Washington State University and said that attending an HBCU would have given him a sense of pride. “I wouldn’t have to feel like a spokesperson in class for all Black people,” he said.

Along with touring the HBCUs, students will get the chance to visit various educational sites throughout the Atlanta area, like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola museum.