Celebrating 20 Years of Empowering Change Agents on HBCU Campuses

Last October, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities program celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Leadership Summit – bringing 32 dynamic young leaders to Washington, D.C., for a celebration of Black queer joy and the opportunity to engage with other HBCU students from across the country.

Led by HBCU program director Leslie Hall, the Leadership Summit provides development and advocacy training that empowers LGBTQ+ HBCU students to act as change agents on their campuses and in their communities.

Many of our students exist in spaces where they feel like they can’t be their most authentic selves and haven’t felt fully embraced. The Leadership Summit was created for Black queer youth to feel acknowledged and seen.

Leslie Hall, HBCU Director


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Creating a space where Black queer youth feel accepted for being their most authentic selves has not only helped build confidence for students; it also caused a great uptick in summit applicants over the years. With most college students living on social media these days, the HBCU team uses various platforms — Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok — to reach its target demographic by promoting the summit application across the Human Rights Campaign’s social channels. However, word of mouth still serves as the best recruitment tool, as many former summit participants share their experiences once back on their campuses, inspiring other HBCU students to apply.

Once applications are closed, an organizing committee, consisting of alumni who participated in the summit the previous year, grade the applications based on how active applicants are on their campuses. After identifying the new cohort members, the HBCU team discusses the areas of growth from the last summit and identifies ways to enhance the experience to ensure the students can easily share the knowledge gained during the convening once back on their campuses.

From the 2022 HBCU Summit

  • Leslie Hall

  • Chauna Lawson and other summit attendees

  • All 3 Photos Credit: AntUnltd

“This year's participants utilized a capstone project to take their learnings and apply them on their campus through event programming or a policy change,” said Leadership Summit alumnus and current HBCU program coordinator Justin Calhoun. “Through this project, they explored a need, like gender-inclusive housing or LGBTQ+ student leadership on campus, and designed a concrete proposal to meet this need.”

During the summit there are a variety of topics discussed — from religion to overcoming internalized oppression — with notable keynote speakers like Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, Queen and Slim producer Lena Waithe and ballroom legend Lolita Leopard. Additionally, there are workforce readiness panels for students to learn about being their authentic selves in their future careers, as well as life journeys. These workforce readiness initiatives equip undergraduate students who are aspiring professionals with resources, mentorship and knowledge that will help enable them to turn their dreams into reality.


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Leadership Summit alumna Erika McPheeters said the summit helped redefine her goals.

“Since this experience, I have been inspired to develop my own community center for Black queer youth,” said McPheeters. “It will be a safe space to facilitate growth and support people who have had similar experiences as me while growing up. I want other individuals to have a space where they feel connected and important. As such, I would like to find ways to provide financial stability, housing and social support — and make sure the needs of Black queer people are met.”

Although the HBCU program seeks to invest in students, the students also give back to the program in many ways. Some students cross over into other HBCU programs, like the PrEP Peer Educator Initiative, or serve as organizers of the summit itself on our HBCU Leadership Summit Organizing Committee. Other students have represented the program by sitting on panels, and some participants have even returned to HRC as staff, like Calhoun, or as interns, like McPheeters, who is a current intern with the HIV & Health Equity team.

The summit concludes with participants returning to their campuses, equipped with enhanced leadership skills, a more profound sense of identity and a renewed zeal for advocacy and change.

”Navigating Howard [University] life and culture as a queer student in a new city was extremely overwhelming. Through the adversity I faced my first year, I felt my voice become silenced, my concerns become ignored and myself become invisible,” said Leadership Summit alumnus Laten Jordan. “Yet, through this adversity, I gained a deep desire to advocate for each and every student, which is why fostering LGBTQ+ inclusivity is extremely important to me. I was a student who felt unheard and unseen, and I have fought to ensure that no queer bison, the official mascot of Howard University, feels like that again."

From the 2023 HBCU Summit

  • Group Shot

  • Krystal Gutierrez, Chauna Lawson, Jordyn White and other summit attendees

Learn more about the HRC Foundation’s HBCU Program.


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