IRVINGTON, NJ — Fathiyyah Salaam is a guidance counselor at East Orange Campus High School who believes historically black colleges and universities still have a vital role to play to in helping black high school graduates fulfill their higher education dreams. One former student she mentored, Eleise Richards, is an Irvington native and the founder of the annual Experience the Legacy Historically Black Colleges and Universities College Fair, which took place at Irvington High School on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Salaam was at the HBCU College Fair at Irvington High School, showing her ongoing support for the friend she mentored.
“I’m a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Class of 2000. I also graduated from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2002 with a master’s degree in school counseling. I am a school counselor at East Orange Campus High School and I am also a member of the North Jersey Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Inc.,” said Salaam on Saturday, Sept. 30. “My wonderful Eleise put this together. She is a mentee of mine from the Seton Hall University Upward Bound Program, so this is the second year that she’s done this. I came last year and sat on the panel.”
Salaam said she knew Richards would succeed at college and in life, and that her dedication and motivation was clearly on display at the HBCU College Fair, especially because she she flew back to Irvington from California, where she lives and works, to participate in the event she founded.
“She came from California. She went to Howard University and I did help her with that choice. I just expose my students to HBCUs, in working with them and encouraging them to attend HBCUs, so I’m proud of the choice that she made,” Salaam said. “There is still a lot of relevance and a need for HBCUs. Understand that, historically, we were not allowed to be educated and to get further knowledge. And these are institutions created for us by us and we need to still embrace and attend these institutions, or else they’ll be obsolete. If we don’t attend, who else will? We need to take advantage of this.”
Richards credits Salaam with inspiring her to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a degree in fashion marketing and later founded the college fair.
“My thing is, when I was making college decisions, I felt like I didn’t really have much information,” said Richards on Saturday, Sept. 30. “I had my best friend, Jackie, who basically told me she wanted to go to Howard, so I was like: ‘OK, I’m going to go to Howard,’ and then I had my mentor, Fathiyyah, who went to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I’m like: ‘Cool. An HBCU, I’m just going to apply because y’all applied.’”
Richards acknowledged that although she didn’t use the most scientific method to choose a college,things turned out extremely well for her. Others, however, might not be as lucky as she was when it comes to choosing higher education.
“If I would have applied my resources better and would have had better information, granted, I would still probably have made that good decision of going to Howard, but I just would have been more well-prepared,” said Richards on Saturday, Sept. 30. “ I want the students from where I’m from to have that readiness and be college ready and be prepared, so let me come back and give them what I think is a gem, a jewel, a one-of-a-kind experience. So that’s what made me bring this event here to my hometown.
“ I just want the kids to understand that there are illustrious, prominent universities out here that are for us. They’re just as great as the Dukes, the Harvards. There’s notable alumni that come from those universities. HBCUs are just amazing places and it’s amazing experiences to help you learn yourself, learn your community and also learn the importance of giving back. That’s like the biggest thing. You have to give back, because you have to pave the path for the next generation to do just as great as you are.”
Salaam said she encourages students to learn about HBCUs and to visit them for tours.
“The North Jersey Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. put together a college tour every year of HBCUs, different HBCUs every year. So this year, I believe they’re going to either the Carolinas or Virginias,” Salaam said.
“Exposure, that’s the thing. A lot of our students, a lot of our children, are not exposed to HBCUs or they don’t even have a clue about HBCUs, because there’s so much talk about … Predominantly White Institutions, especially the local ones.”
Salaam said the underlying importance and ethos at HBCUs is “you want for yourself what you want for your brother or your sister.”
East Orange Council President and mayoral candidate Ted Green, who was present at the Irvington event, said he couldn’t agree more.
“Years ago, we had to fight to go to college,” said Green, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Cheyney University and his master’s degree from Lincoln University, both HBCUs. “In my family, it’s kind of a tradition that we went to HBCUs. I think it’s important, also, for our young people to experience black colleges, for all the history and culture.”