Tell Them We Are Rising documentary shows HBCUs as incubators of creativity, and freedom

Tell them we are rising the aftermath.
Photo credit:  Angelique Beckford


In a proactive environment where black education and intellect is birthed, the documentary Tell Them We Are Rising, explored the early origins of the creation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to their present day.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black College and Universities is a new documentary, directed by Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, that gives viewers an opportunity to understand the impact and influence of HBCUs for over the past 150 years.

This film portrays the powerful story of the influence, evolution, and rise of HBCUs coming to life.

In the documentary, Howard University Alumni Sydnee Harris mentioned how African-Americans were doing what was necessary to get an education. “HBCUs have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field while remaining unapologetically Black,” said Harris.

As a key driver of Black political, economic and social progress, HBCUs were known as a place of unprecedented freedom for African-American students and a refuge from the rampant racism that raged outside the campus walls. 

“HBCUs continue to be institutions for African Americans and those of color to excel and become dynamic leaders and change agents in our society,” said Harris. These institutions are the places we seek social liberation through activism, safe spaces to grow, build character and skills as young black students, and standards of high-quality education is not deferred because of the color of our skin or our socioeconomic status.

Ciara Walton, a graduate student at North Florida, said “As a first-generation college graduate who did not attend an HBCU, this documentary gave me a different perspective on the importance of having the space to thrive and be self-liberated as a black person in a place of higher learning.”

“Although HBCUs were created for African Americans, they were not under the control of full Black leadership. Black students still dealt with certain struggles of not having control or a voice,” said Walton. “The stories of HBCUs are one of the many stories of Black Americans that need to be heard.”

While the documentary pointed to the generations that have paved the way to build and maintain HBCUs, it also gave us a glimpse of what the fall of HBCUs could look like. If we don't continue to understand and actively support the importance of building and maintaining our HBCUs structures, we could lose the history of a support system and a narrative that produces excellence.

Dr. Reginald K. Ellis, associate professor in the Department of History and African-American Studies at FAMU, mentioned that the powerful aspect of this documentary is the pride that the alumni expressed for their colleges/universities,“‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ is a very powerful documentary that depicts the legacy of HBCUs.  This story shows the fight African-Americans waged for education since 1865.”

“I hope the students take away a strong sense of pride in the fact that they are the benefactors of the life and legacy of the founders of our HBCUs while also understanding that we have an obligation to ensure that all 105 of these institutions continue to thrive,” said Dr. Ellis.  “That means we have to graduate, give back and send our children back!”