Ferris grad on importance, impact of historical Black colleges for students of color

Posted by Communications staff on 2/10/2021

When presented with the opportunity to speak with SPS teachers and staff, Lisa Gardner – the communications director for the Spokane City Council and member of the executive committee for the Spokane NAACP chapter – seized it.

“I’m originally from Spokane and I’m a product of Spokane Public Schools, from Sheridan to Libby and then onto Ferris,” she said.

Head shot for Lisa Gardner, SPS alum and communications director for Spokane City Counsil The topic Lisa choose to speak about centered on the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. Her presentation was part of the district’s “Excellence for Everyone” professional development series.

When Lisa graduated from Ferris in 1993, she didn’t know HBCUs were an option for her. The only link to historical Black colleges she had were from The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World.

“That was my only reference,” she said, “and even that was a fictional college.”

After completing her studies at a nearby community college, Lisa joined AmeriCorp. It was there she met a mentor who attended Bowie State – an HBCU in Maryland – who taught Lisa about historically Black colleges and what they had to offer.

“This opened up an entire new world for me because at first I thought I was only going to go to junior college or community college,” said Lisa.

The next year, Lisa transferred to Bowie State. She still considers it one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

“It definitely gave me a whole new perspective on my culture,” remembered Lisa. “It was just immersed in everything, like my faculty, my administration, my city, my dorms. I was meeting Black millionaires for the first time that are my friend's parents, not athletes or celebrities. It was that exposure that I wasn't getting here in Washington, particularly Spokane.”

Now Lisa wants to make sure all students, but especially students of color, know they can have the same experience she did.

“Students of color definitely need to know there is an option outside of either going to just their local community college or a university here at home,” said Lisa. “They can go to a historically Black college.”

Lisa hopes her presentation to teachers and staff will help empower them to bring up HBCUs more to their students of color in the future.

“It doesn’t have to be a taboo conversation,” Lisa said. “It shows the students that you recognize their culture and that, for them, learning about their culture is important.”

HBCUs offer not only an educational awakening for students of color in Spokane or Washington state, Lisa said, but a social one as well. It was her first experience and introduction to black Greek-lettered fraternity and sororities. While at Bowie, Lisa joined her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., which just celebrated its centennial. 

“When you go to a historical Black college, you're no longer the minority," she said. "It’s a culture change that I think Black kids and Black people in particular should experience once in their life.”