Hope and Healing

Hope and Healing Black Colleges and the Future of American Democracy

John Silvanus Wilson, Jr.
paper, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: May 2023
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-804-3
Price: $38.00

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Pub. Date: May 2023
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-805-0

Add to Cart

With significant lessons from the history and evolution of HBCUs, a guide to the strategic conversations all higher education institutions must have to prepare students for a complex world.

In Hope and Healing, former Morehouse College president John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. looks to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to examine what it takes not only to survive as a relevant institution of higher education, but to thrive. Wilson draws on pivotal moments in the timelines of HBCUs and the work of past visionaries such as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington to yield important perspectives on the future of higher education and the role of HBCUs within it. 


In Hope and Healing, Wilson asks us to consider the future of HBCUs and their impact on humanity—but more than that, he asks us to consider how these institutions can create better citizens and offer African Americans an opportunity for ‘self-reformation’ by adopting a ‘growth mindset.’ Wilson walks us through the complicated history of HBCUs, but also pushes us to grapple with their destiny. In doing so, he has an insider view that no other can claim—he is a graduate of Morehouse College and served as the venerable institution’s president, as well as the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs in President Obama’s administration. — Marybeth Gasman, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education and University Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

John Wilson’s Hope and Healing reminds us of the pivotal role that HBCUs have played in pushing the country to fully realize its democratic ideals. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow separatism to the civil rights movement, HBCUs have advanced Black citizenship and continue to do so by disproportionately educating Black scientists, jurists, teachers, and public servants. His arguments make the case for increased investment in institutions that have been at the frontier of social justice for well over a hundred years. — Mary Schmidt Campbell, president emerita, Spelman College

Wilson astutely mines our shared educational history and renders rich interpretations that are eye-opening and long overdue. This book makes a strong case for nothing less than a re-architecture of both philanthropy and higher education. Its redemptive and refreshing recommendations will inevitably enrich our national dialogue and deepen our understanding regarding the past and future of historically black colleges and universities. — Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation

John Wilson brilliantly weaves in seminal historical writings and speeches from Black college leaders to help pose a set of essential questions for those who lead and support HBCUs today. He offers a workbook filled with tough questions that, if answered honestly, will improve the colleges that wrestle with them. — Walter Kimbrough, president emeritus, Dillard University and Philander Smith College

In Hope and Healing, John Wilson candidly connects the history of HBCUs to today’s challenges—and to an uncertain future. Through his skilled storytelling, Wilson shares his perspectives and admonitions about this very special part of the American higher education journey. This is a must-read for all who seek to understand, sustain, and grow the powerful and transformative role of HBCUs on our country. — Richard Legon, past president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards and member of the board of Spelman College

Wilson’s unique experience in higher education—White House liaison to HBCUs, president of Morehouse College, senior advisor to the president of Harvard College, and now training future college presidents at the American Association of State Universities and Colleges—provides an unparalleled understanding of what every college and university can learn from the persistence of HBCUs through unending adversity. He describes in loving detail how these institutions mold young people and makes the case that all of our institutions of higher education should ‘elevate, enrich, and scale key elements of the HBCU approach to shaping better citizens.’ — Freada Kapor Klein and Mitchell Kapor, co-chairs, Kapor Center

With the core message that the only way to shape a better world is to shape better citizens of the world, Wilson analyzes the history of Black colleges in America for important lessons of global significance. Not only does he challenge the world’s philanthropic community to rethink patterns of inequitable giving to educational institutions, but he also challenges leadership in higher education to shift mindsets and ‘re-architect’ campus agendas to effectively confront the world’s greatest threats before it’s too late. The message is timely because the stakes are so high. — Strive Masiyiwa, founder and executive chairman, Econet Group, and cofounder, Higherlife Foundation

An engaging and illuminating portrait of the history and purpose of HBCUs that makes a powerful case for their indispensable role in American higher education and American life. — Drew Gilpin Faust, president emerita, Harvard University

There are few scholarly books today that tell the irrefutable story of the history, contributions, and significance of Black colleges to the well-being and prosperity of America. This well-researched work presents a unique lens through which to view the essential role of historically Black colleges in preserving and perfecting democracy in America. It asks whether there can be an American system of higher education today where historically Black colleges can garner the resources to enable them to educate students in physical environments comparable to the Ivy League, while simultaneously offering curricula aligned with the work of the future and the future of work. Of course, they can do this, Wilson argues, if philanthropists and state legislatures right past wrongs and bring these institutions to parity. Run and get this book if you are interested in mind expansion around how HBCUs—few as they are—can be the linchpin to a thriving and inclusive America. I read my copy in one sitting—it was just that compelling! — David Kwabena Wilson, president, Morgan State University

Hope and Healing will be an excellent handbook for those who want to put HBCUs on a path to reclaim their central role in higher education for African Americans. John Wilson is an ideal spokesperson for the transformation: HBCU student, experienced leader in higher education administration, HBCU policy leader in Washington, and former president of an HBCU. He frames the critical path to transformation by reminding us of the great role these institutions played in the past and how higher education has generally evolved, then points to the new levers for positive change that exists now. I am especially impressed with his focus on the critical role of institutional leadership and stewardship. Wilson highlights and details how discordant leadership and governance have degraded the ability of colleges to deal with headwinds and have failed to embrace opportunities. Transformative leadership and governance are critical. Wilson provides the road map for the path forward. — Phillip Clay, former chancellor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Traditionally, US philanthropy has favored elite institutions over HBCUs, making these elite colleges among the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in history. Yet many of our elected leaders, typically educated at those institutions, seem among the most hostile to democratic ideals and fan the flames of hate and inequity. John Wilson’s remarkable book, Hope and Healing: Black Colleges and the Future of American Democracy, persuasively argues how strengthening HBCUs and their character-driven educational model can help our nation meet its current challenges in ways that elite, predominantly white institutions are failing us—and provides a compelling road map for philanthropy to follow. — Bill Moses, managing director of education, Kresge Foundation

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About the Author

John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. has been a career-long advocate of HBCUs. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1979 and later served as its eleventh president (2013-2017). He has also worked to advance HBCUs on the national stage by serving as the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs in the Obama Administration. He now directs the Millennium Leadership Initiative for aspiring college presidents. 

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