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Texas HBCU Conference Series, Democracy Schools

Texas HBCU Conference Series, Democracy Schools



Announcing…!   Save the Date…!


Texas HBCU Conference Series, Democracy Schools, YEAR THREE at St. Philip’s College, San Antonio, TX, April 5-April 6 (Friday-Saturday), 2024

Development of the Democratic Person, Research/Practice Agenda


Thank you to generous supporters!


Conference Description

The Texas HBCU Conference Series, Democracy Schools is the historic gathering of students, faculty, and staff of Texas HBCUs and community partners that started in the spring of 2022 on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University (HT).  The conference series, now in year three, emerges from the efforts of students in the campuswide leadership development and civic engagement initiative known as Public Leadership in Faith and Social Justice Traditions (Public Leadership).

The conference series speaks to the moment of democratic peril America today faces.   The series seeks to reclaim and renew visions of American democracy rooted in civic capacity, community traditions and institutions.  America as a bold responsive inclusive community is how we think of the tradition.

American democracy as a bold responsive inclusive community has deep roots in American history.  The idea is woven into America’s founding documents and has inspired movements for freedom of enormous proportion, passion, talent, and energy often in unexpected places.  Black communities and Black institutions, specifically, help retrieve the commitment.  Bold responsive inclusive community is intimately bound up with the experience of African Americans.  The Civil War, Reconstruction, Amendments 13, 14, 15, America’s HBCUs, Rosenwald schools and libraries, the American civil rights movement, all tell the story of bold responsive inclusive community and the advance of American democracy.

The work of scholars and professionals across disciplines and fields comes to the fore in the cultural view of democracy and citizenship that grounds the conference series.  Scholars and professionals who learn to “let go” control and work with other citizens, rather than work “on” them or “for” them is the model of professional practice we call the “civic professional.”  Civic professionals provide a form of leadership we call “strong meaningful citizenship.”  Strong meaningful citizenship is a distinct leadership practice that is locally embedded, directed, and resourced, inclusive and ideas oriented.  Leaders bring people together in and through community traditions and institutions (like colleges and universities) across differences that typically divide constituencies to build a world to live in that people believe in.  People assemble great power working together this way.  They become civic agents capable of contributing to solutions to public problems in meaningful ways.  The practice of strong meaningful citizenship helps to build a civic culture in which citizens learn to become public, powerful people, and democracy comes to be understood as the work of everyone.

We call settings where civic professionals are formed “democracy schools.”  Democracy schools and civic professionals have been central to the Black freedom movement from the beginning.  HBCUs are powerful examples of democracy schools with deep roots in democratic movements and periods throughout American history.  We mean to model and to spread democracy schools through the conference series.  The conference series seeks to contribute to an American democratic renewal highlighting the role of Texas’ and America’s HBCUs.


Theme of the Year Three Conference

The theme of the year three conference is development of the democratic person through research and practice.  A major objective of the conference is to help participants develop strategies that enable them to contribute to the state of knowledge and practice in the field (development of the democratic person).

The democratic person is not an individual, but a culture marked by practices of strong meaningful citizenship.  The domain (development of democratic person) is a process field as much as substance with insights for just about everything a people do or might do.  Strong meaningful citizenship infuses the way the democratic person generally behaves.  How would a biologist, for example, who is a citizen professional do biology, and what would new knowledge in the field (a “democratic biology” let’s say) look like?  How would an entrepreneur who is a citizen professional do business?  Imagine similar impacts and outcomes in student affairs programing, urban planning, music, accounting, etc.

Democratic Personhood, HBCU Leadership and Legacy, Rosenwald Schools

Democratic personhood is closely linked to the concept of human flourishing in philosophy, in traditions of personalism as developed at Morehouse College in particular.  A traditional leader in philosophy among America’s HBCUs, Morehouse was a significant center for development of personalist philosophy and theology in the US, as Benjamin Mays, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, and many of the leaders of the Black freedom movement were educated there.  Personalism holds that the flourishing of the personality is the premise of a good society.  Personalist philosophy and theology at Morehouse stressed “the sacred or otherwise inviolable dignity of persons…[and] promoted an educational process that activated the potential of individuals within and across diverse communities,” as the historian Kipten E. Jensen put it.  Personalism was a major foundation for nonviolent philosophy and a strong cultural view of democracy and citizenship.

The thousands of Rosenwald schools that Black communities created across the American South (including Texas) during Jim Crow are a powerful example of democratic personhood infused with ideas of human flourishing from personalism.  The movement had direct links to America’s HBCUs and played key roles in developing the nonviolent practices later promoted by the civil rights movement.  The network of educators closely linked to Rosenwald schools, called Jeanes Teachers, were schooled in HBCUs.

The larger American society’s failure to recognize the immensely valuable educational and civic history of the Rosenwald schools, and the Jeanes Teachers, was a loss to American democracy after Brown v. Board of Education as mainstream school systems failed to hire the bulk of Black teachers who worked in Rosenwald Schools.


Manifold contributions from across disciplines and fields are needed to explore the roots of the democratic person in our time and to develop its practices.  The visions of the common good and human flourishing need public discussion and consideration if they are to grow and spread.  Practices emerge when values and beliefs people share lead to ways of doing things and visions of the future that people embrace.

The year three conference supports this effort.  The conference will explore resources for developing processes and outcomes in diverse disciplines and domains that reflect and promote the values and beliefs, and vision of the common good and of human flourishing in democratic personhood.  The conference will also help scholars and practitioners become better acquainted with the leadership of HBCUs in developing pedagogical personalism and democratic personhood and their current possibilities.



Submissions from scholars and practitioners whose work incorporates purposes and themes that speak to the formation of the democratic person, the citizen professional, and/or strong meaningful citizenship are welcome.  The cultural view of democracy and citizenship that grounds the conference series makes room for contributions from a variety of fields (literature, science, humanities and the arts, the media, and more).  We invite submissions for conference panels, presenters, and discussants.  We encourage submissions that include the active participation of students.  Click here to submit a proposal.  Questions about the conference may be emailed to HCBU Conference Planning, Dr. Robert M. Ceresa and Dr. Ronald E. Goodwin  We look forward to working with you.


A New Peer Review Academic Journal

For scholars and practitioners who submit their work to the conference, a chance to publish in the new peer review academic journal with University of Texas Press, Freedom Schools: A Journal of Democracy and Community, is an opportunity we are excited to offer.  Click here to access the journal.  Freedom Schools elevates the distinctive voices of the HBCU in Texas and more broadly as well as scholars and scholar-practitioners from across the disciplines and institutions who recognize democracy as a politics/culture, a society, as well as a government requires leaders to think seriously about civic capacity building across the social life of a people and the role of institutions, including colleges, universities, and schools.


Check back again soon for more updates.