Before the end of the Civil War, large numbers of people of African descent were still enslaved in the South, and Southern laws prohibited teaching them to read or write. After the war, Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded to afford Black people access to higher education. North Carolina is home to 12 HBCUs, including Raleigh’s Shaw University, the first in the South. 

While contemporary conversations around the intersections of social justice, activism, and music often place hip-hop in the spotlight, R&B artists are rarely included, despite the genre’s blending of hip-hop aesthetics. But Heather Victoria, a Jamla Records R&B artist from Wilson who graduated from Durham’s North Carolina Central University in 2012, wants to use her platform to evoke change and build community across the state. 

Victoria cofounded the organization NC HBCU Alumni with three other Black women: Desmera Gatewood (NCCU ’12), Amber Cole (Fayetteville State ’12), and Jimissa McLean (NC A&T ’12). The organization’s mission is to fight police brutality and systemic racism, support efforts to defund police and redirect funds to underserved communities of color and increase financial support for HBCUs.

NC HBCU Alumni will hold its first rally July 25. It will start at NCCU’s Mass Communication building at 6:00 p.m. and end downtown on Parrish Street. We caught up with Victoria to learn about her inspirations and her new role as an organizer and advocate for Black communities. 

INDY: What inspired you to start NC HBCU Alumni?

HEATHER VICTORIA: The goal is to organize and network within alumni communities in efforts to provide a change in our neighborhoods. And when I say neighborhoods, I mean in our Black neighborhoods. We are interested in hosting monthly or quarterly events, like a parade or yoga meetup, to gather offline and have our voices heard amongst each other. You know, there’s so many people who attended HBCUs in North Carolina who don’t live here anymore, which makes us even more powerful as far as what we could get done. 

The inspiration just came from all of the recent events with police violence in our communities, from Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. It even goes back to Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. I am inspired by the work Beyoncé does with her Bey Good organization. Recently she offered free COVID testing in Houston and she always gives back to her community. Tamika Mallory is also an inspiration. I got to hear her speak at the 2018 BET awards. 

As we see with Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and Sandra Bland, Black women are often overlooked when it comes to police violence. How does the treatment of Black women by the police and your identity as Black women inform the organization’s mission? 

We are so inspired to just do something more than the hashtags—not saying that [hashtag activism] is bad or anything. I think what really triggered me was just reading about our elders who fought for us during the Civil Rights Movement and how long they were able to hold boycotts. The [North Carolina A&T] students in Greensboro, how that lasted for months.

We have to be the change that we want to see within our communities. I feel like a lot of people are really proud to be HBCU alumni, but they might not necessarily have an organization to belong to that is doing the work. We have a real passion for trying to continue the fight against police brutality and we support the movement of defunding the police in hopes that those same funds can be redirected back into our communities, and specifically our HBCUs. 

Tell us about the event on July 25. 

It’s a community event that will be a peaceful march. We will be providing voter-registration resources at the end of the rally. The goal is to gather, to bring together people who would like to be a part of the organization or offer support. You don’t necessarily have to have graduated from an HBCU here in North Carolina. You could just support North Carolina HBCUs by wanting to see them thrive. It’s really just a call to recognize that we are here, we’re organized, and we are wanting to be a part of the necessary social justice and systemic change that we want to see. 

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