Nicole Barnwell has been breaking down closed doors and creating a pipeline from New York City to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Since 2016, Nicole has been forming a supportive space for highschoolers as the founder of The HBCU Hub helping 1,500 students discover the benefits of HBCUs and prepare for college.
Nicole’s Time with Represented:
Nicole was one of Represented Foundation’s fellows from the 2020 cohort. As I interviewed Nicole over the phone, she gushed about her time with Represented. “(Being) from a background that wasn’t nonprofit related, it helped me to understand the social impact and nonprofit space a lot better...especially as a black woman, entering into a predominantly white space”.
Nicole actually never planned to go into the nonprofit sector. After graduating from the Virginia-based HBCU, Hampton University in 2008, Nicole knew she had found her passion in mentoring students. “After four years, I was excited to continue the HBCU experience, but there wasn't one in New York”. About her time volunteering in recruitment for the Hampton Alumni Association, Nicole says
“I constantly ran into students who didn't know what an HBCU was, or had never heard of, some of the many HBCUs that are in existence. And if they did know about it, many of them didn't have support to go to an HBCU. There was also a lot of non-information, and a lot of misinformation about black colleges, that I discovered as a result of my volunteer work, that after many years I constantly kept running into that same issue, and nothing was being done about it”.
So Nicole decided to fix the problem, herself.
When I asked Nicole to tell me about some of the challenges she faces as a nonprofit founder she said, “It’s difficult to go up against people’s mentalities about higher education” facing conflict with the system itself. After recently speaking to the head of college access at the Department of Education (DOE), Nicole was told that HBCU advocacy is important, but “not a priority.” For Nicole, running an emerging nonprofit organization means putting in a lot of hours, and juggling multiple plates at once. To find the motivation to continue, Nicole looks to the success of her students.
“In the times when I get discouraged we get a text message or email, from somebody that got a scholarship as a result of the workshops and things that we provided or got into their school, (you know), that definitely keeps me motivated,” she said.
The Role Models:
“The best role model someone can be is being an example of what it is to just be happy, living in their truth, and being authentic,” Nicole believes. She strives to be this example for her students. By living her best life, she encourages her students to believe in the possibility of “what if” for themselves. “I love being able to be that example for them to follow their dreams and accomplish their goals”.
Nicole grabs this inspiration from her role model, her father, who has pastored in a church for about 30 years.
“ I like being able to tap into him as a resource when I have a problem and I can go to him to ask him for advice. Simply to have the ear of someone who understands and that has been in my place, and been in my shoes… he's somebody that only so far has inspired me, but continues to, support me and be there for me when I need him to be”.
I asked Nicole our infamous “Legacy” questions, for which our new blog series is named. “How would you like to be remembered, and what kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind? Nicole says she wants to be seen as someone who;
1. Blazed her own trail.
2. Made something out of nothing.
3. Stood in her truth.
4. Was of service to others.
5. Was loved.
6. Gave back to her community.
7. Was a resource and support for herself and others.
Well on her way to checking off all items on this list, we at Represented Foundation, would like to congratulate Nicole and The HBCU Hub on its 5 year anniversary. Her organization is truly making an impact with so many students in the New York area. We are proud to announce that she has just received her first official grant from the Citizens Committee For NYC for $2,500. Grateful because it’s “more than what we had” says Nicole, we’re confident there will be many more grants to continue serving more students in her future.
To learn more about how you can support The HBCU Hub, click here.
Represented Foundation's mission is to close the diversity gap in social impact leadership.