Celebrating the First Year of the Andrew Goodman HBCU Cohort

In an already historic 2020-2021 academic year, The Andrew Goodman Foundation welcomed an additional 19 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to its network and launched its first ever Andrew Goodman HBCU Cohort. The Cohort totals 26 campuses from 12 states and Washington, D.C., represented by 47 student Andrew Goodman Ambassadors and 26 Andrew Goodman Campus Champions. The HBCU Cohort now makes up 29% of the 90-campus network, making it a flagship program that has already displayed enormous impact. We are incredibly proud of all that the Cohort’s Ambassadors have accomplished in just this first year and the foundation that leaves for the future.

The timing of the Cohort’s launch ahead of the 2020 Election was ambitious and intentional. In what promised to be an election with both record-breaking voter turnout and voter suppression tactics, the creation of the Cohort ensured a more inclusive network designed to share resources equitably and equip students to combat voter suppression felt disproportionately by Black students. The Cohort also strengthened engagement in the following nine strategic states for both the 2020 Election and the larger fight for voting rights: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Cohort is spearheaded by Christina Pollonais, Esq., AGF’s Senior Program Manager: Growth and Impact Strategist. Herself a proud alumna of Spelman College, Christina remarks that she has worked to create a program that “mirrors the traditions and values of HBCUs” while also acknowledging that for many, institutionalizing democratic engagement into campus culture is a new and difficult feat. 

This opportunity—leveraging the institutional pride and community investment that is inherent to HBCUs to create a more ingrained and sustainable democratic engagement pipeline—is precisely where the Cohort can lead. With this in mind, the Cohort set out with four major priorities in its first year: ensuring that every campus has an action plan complete with their institutional landscape, equipping Ambassadors with leadership and professional skills, building trust by elevating student voices, and creating a space for Black students to address issues they are facing in community with each other. Campus Champion Monica Clarke of Alabama A&M University remarked that “the HBCU Cohort is an amazing opportunity for like minds to come together to share ideas and best practices.” 

The Cohort’s Spring 2021 semester launched on January 23, with a comprehensive orientation that welcomed new Ambassadors; introduced our founding story of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner; overviewed common voter suppression issues; laid out Cohort Commitments; trained Ambassadors on creating and executing campus action plans; and provided space for Ambassadors to begin creating community with each other. The remainder of the semester was shaped by monthly gatherings, including a Black History Month panel in February, an Ambassador Meeting in April, and a coordinated Day of Service in April. 

Throughout it all, Ambassadors carried out their campus action plans, wrote op-eds to advocate for the For The People Act, attended Andrew Goodman Network-wide briefings, and completed other community service and self-reflection projects. This is an extraordinary accomplishment for any year, but even more so while facing continuous racial violence, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the inability to gather in person, which is particularly important for community-based HBCUs. Ambassador Amaya Rearden of Alabama A&M University shares: “I am so grateful for this cohort of HBCU Ambassadors. Voting on HBCU campuses comes with its own set of challenges, and being able to collaborate with and befriend students who understand the process is invaluable.”

It is with all this in mind that the Cohort drives onward with an even greater vision for the future. With current and future Ambassadors, Champions, and the many young leaders they will mobilize along the way, the Cohort is a movement that will mold our next elected officials into the true leaders and advocates we need them to be. In the coming years, the Cohort will increase representation of young Black leaders in democracy spaces, work to implement a democracy curriculum for all first-year HBCU students, and create more on-campus democracy centers at HBCUs. This is no small vision, but following such a successful pilot year of the Andrew Goodman HBCU Cohort, there is no doubt that with continued resources and support, it will be made a reality. 

About the Author

Caroline Smith is the Senior Program Manager: Partnership Strategist at The Andrew Goodman Foundation.