Wilmington's HBCU Week now heads to Walt Disney World Resort

HBCU Week began in Wilmington. Now, participation has grown to 5,000 students.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Wilmington's HBCU Week now heads to Disney World
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The Disney HBCU week is October 7-9. Just like the Wilmington event, it will feature a college fair that could be life-changing.

WILMINGTON, Delaware (WPVI) -- Ashley Christopher always knew she'd attend an HBCU.

"(My siblings and I) always knew we were going to an HBCU, it was just a matter of which one," she said of the desire her parents instilled in them to attend an HBCU, which is short for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

HBCUs were founded at a time when African Americans were barred from attending other universities.

"Black students were prohibited by law from matriculating in higher institutions. So, in response to that, we had to build our own," said Christopher who obtained her Bachelor's degree from Howard University and her law degree from the University of the District of Colombia, both HBCUs.

Christopher wanted to give other students the same option to attend HBCUs.

"A lot of kids from my community feel like college isn't an option or don't know what to do to achieve that goal," she said.

SEE ALSO: Largest-ever HBCU Week college fair coming to Walt Disney World Resort next month

It's the reason she brought the nation's HBCUs directly to students in Delaware, starting HBCU Week in 2017 in Wilmington.

"Mayor Mike Purzycki asked me to come up with some programming that was directed at Wilmington's most under-served communities," said Christopher, who works in the Wilmington Mayor's Office. "I came up with this idea to have this college fair-like setting for students here in the city of Wilmington."

It began with six schools expecting about 200 students to participate.

"It spiked to like 700 the week before the event," said Christopher of the first indication that interest in HBCU Week would exceed expectations.

Now, participation in HBCU week has grown to 5,000 students.

"We don't close our doors to non-Black people either. Everybody is welcome on an HBCU," she said.

HBCU Week festivities run from Wednesday, September 21 to Sunday, September 25 in Wilmington.

"(We have) a week of events, very exciting stuff, from concerts to comedy shows, panel discussions," said Christopher.

The activities also feature a middle school college tour at Delaware State University, a block party, a battle of the bands and a college career fair. But those events won't happen solely in Wilmington. This year, there's a new "host site" for another HBCU week: Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

"Oh my gosh! That's the biggest stage we could have ever asked to be on," Christopher said of the partnership. "It's the biggest brand in the world. So we'll be able to reach students nationwide with our opportunities."

The Disney HBCU Week is October 7-9. Just like the Wilmington event, it will feature a college fair that could be life-changing.

"(Students) can get an on-the-spot acceptance and a scholarship directly from the fair," she said.

Though the fair is open to all students, on-the-spot admissions and scholarships are a possibility for high school seniors who bring their transcripts and ACT or SAT scores to the college fair.

"Since 2017, we've given more than 3,500 acceptances on the spot," she said. "And the scholarships range from $5,000 to a full ride."

This year's college fairs will feature about 30 schools including local HBCUs Cheyney University, Lincoln University and Delaware State University. Students who can't attend the college fairs in person can still apply for scholarships online at https://www.hbcuweek.org/

"We have another $7M in corporate donors that are offering some scholarships," said Christopher.

The double HBCU alum, as she describes herself, now hopes to help even more students see the possibilities, thanks to the new partnership that incorporates the magic of Disney World.

"We're going to Disney this year, we're going to keep building," she said. "Who knows what's next?"