More than a century ago (1919), W. E. B. Du Bois wrote,
… there are a great many people who wish to help good causes in the world, and who with equal frankness decline to contribute to our work. They say plainly, “we are not interested in giving black boys college training. We think that the class of Negroes who have reached the plane where they can profit by such higher training have also reached the plane where they do not need outside aid. Such people, white or black, can be left to themselves to make their own way in the world.” They say, “we are interested in the submerged classes of those poor people who are struggling up out of the depths. Such people we want to help, but, on the other hand, while theoretically we would be glad to help all people to a broader vision, yet on account of limited ability we are obliged to confine ourselves to cases of pressing necessity; therefore, we cannot give to Negro college work.“ If, now, the assumption thus stated be true, I would not only not blame philanthropists for refusing to support Atlanta University, but I would go further and change my own work; because the work which lies nearest to my heart is not that of the talented few in opposition to the needs of the submerged many. But I … will prove to you, that the assumption which I mention is false, and that the first step toward lifting the submerged mass of black people in the South is through the higher training of the talented few.
The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques (1906–1910), by W. E. B. Du Bois
Sadly, many people have that same opinion today. When I ask people to support my Institute, which serves some of the best and brightest African American male college students in the country, I have occasionally been told, “We don’t need to worry about them; they will be fine. I want to help the young people who really need it.” When they tell me this, they are expressing the same misguided view Du Bois encountered more than a century ago. They do not understand that our investment in talented young men who can become doctors is not just about the future doctors but about the thousands of patients they will serve and the incalculable number of lives who will be impacted by the patients. Our investment in talented young men who will become lawyers is not just about the future lawyers but about the thousands of individuals they will represent and the incalculable number of people who will benefit indirectly. And so on.
The Institute proudly and unapologetically attracts talented African American men and prepares them to do extraordinary things with their lives. They pursue and achieve extraordinary success for reasons that are bigger than themselves. This, we believe, is the essence of responsible citizenship.
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