Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Creating Future Black Leaders: Meyerhoff Program

BOND: Describe, if you will, the development of the Meyerhoff Program and how it came about and what it’s turned out to be.

HRABOWSKI: Sure. The Meyerhoff Program is the result several of us talking about the challenge we face on this campus of blacks not doing well in science. This is a campus that produces a number of doctors and scientists, at that time, primarily white and Asian, but very few blacks and we were interested in finding funds to help us and fortunately, Robert Meyerhoff, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, had an interest in the issue of black males and wanted to understand why everything they saw on TV other than basketball had a negative bent to it and Bob Embry, the head of the Abell Foundation, knew about my interests, knew about the Meyerhoffs’ interests, and suggested that I call them and I did and we had great conversations and we ended up marrying the two ideas. But what’s interesting is that I did not want to have it only for black males, because I knew I’d be criticized, and Bob Meyerhoff said, “This is my money, this is what I want to do. All right. Do you want to do it?” And so we did it and I’m so glad he forced me to do it, not because I didn’t think the black male issue was important. I just wanted to do something for black women, too, and what it did was, and I did get attacked by some groups, white women’s groups, I should say.

Black women were wonderful in saying we need more programs like this because we see how black males are not doing as well as our daughters, so it was very interesting. But this is what I want you to know. The program led to our talking about the issue of the black male. The next year we got federal funds so, of course, we brought women in and that was good, too. But we began to understand the need for specificity in talking about the issues because that effort led to, amazingly, the campus rethinking its view about a program like Meyerhoff.

Some of my colleagues were not happy with the idea of doing something specifically for African Americans so we had to work on getting people to understand the need for such an initiative because they didn’t think it was fair and it took showing them the graduating classes for that next year, the class where there were no blacks with above a 3.0 in science. And the question was, well, is that because you think they can’t do it? And that began the conversation and so it took building allies that led to --

And what finally became the case was a two-pronged approach -- one part that said we need students who can succeed. We need to think about who can succeed, since most will not have as strong a background as the others. And two, and this was the really sensitive point-what is it that we as faculty may not be doing that we should be doing because the tendency is to say what the students are doing wrong.