When we moved to New Orleans in 2012, the question I was asked most often, as a native of Atlanta, was if I was a Falcons fan. My answer? I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I didn’t come in with strong feelings about the rivalry between two expansion NFL teams that first played in 1967, the year I was born. I remember as a kid how bad both teams were, when fans wore paper bags to the games.
But living here for more than seven years, I have seen how passionate we are about these games. Saints fans will never let Falcons fans forget their blown Super Bowl, and Falcons fans praise the refs who cheated the Saints out of the Super Bowl.
In the end, though, it is still football. Bragging rights are great, but for both cities, it doesn’t change some fundamental realities that are quite shameful.
Atlanta Magazine recently indicated the city has been called the capital of income inequality, the fourth most gentrified city in America. Bloomberg in 2018 indicated Atlanta had the largest racial income gap. That same report indicated New Orleans was No. 2 on that list, but blacks here earn $12,000 less than those in Atlanta. The most recent United Way ALICE report indicated that over half of the households in New Orleans as a whole “live below the poverty line or are struggling to make ends meet.” When the figure is isolated for black New Orleanians, that figure is 67%.
Despite similar struggles, Atlanta fares better. It has 15 Fortune 500 companies to our one. The black population is growing there and declining here. Atlanta is tied with Washington, D.C., on the Forbes list of cities where African Americans are doing the best economically. New Orleans doesn’t make the Top 10.
Atlanta has been No. 1 in that regard for a while. In 2016, author Joel Kotkin provided interesting context to explain why. “With its well-established religious and educational institutions," he wrote of Atlanta, "notably Spelman and Morehouse, which are ranked first and third, respectively, by U.S. News among the nation’s historically black colleges, the area has arguably the strongest infrastructure for African-American advancement in the country.”
New Orleans has three, four-year HBCUs. Only Atlanta and Nashville have that many. But like Atlanta, New Orleans has highly ranked private, UNCF member institutions, Dillard and Xavier, which rival Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta in a number of ways.
In the current U.S. News rankings for HBCUs, Spelman is No. 1 and Morehouse is 4, Xavier is 3 and Dillard is 11. But for the Washington Monthly rankings, Dillard is the No. 1 national liberal arts HBCU (in same category with Spelman and Morehouse), and Xavier is the No. 1 masters HBCU.
The newly released book, “Making Black Scientists,” profiled 10 HBCUs that excel, including Morehouse and Spelman, Dillard and Xavier. The Council of Independent Colleges 2019 study, “The Contribution of Small Colleges in Preparing Underrepresented Students In STEM,” noted that for the top 100 undergraduate institutions for blacks who received biological sciences doctorates from 2007—2016, Spelman was 11th, Dillard 22nd, Xavier 31st, and Morehouse 32nd. As a point of reference, the University of Georgia came in 23rd and LSU 35th.
Finally, the September study by Rutgers University on income mobility at HBCUs listed the Top 10 that provide the greatest social mobility for their graduates. This includes Xavier 1st, Spelman 2nd, Morehouse 4th, and Dillard 5th.
New Orleans should invest in a rivalry that could help remedy some of the challenges we face. In a majority black city with three HBCUs, a significant investment by corporate and philanthropic entities could provide more educational opportunities for students who are prepared to contribute professionally and raise their families into new socioeconomic tiers. Both Xavier and Dillard are housing hundreds of students at SUNO, proof of strong interest in both schools. What if the city helped double the size of both, an investment that would have a transformative effect on this city?
I love the energy and passion the Saints-Falcons rivalry brings to our city. I just want us to create a similar energy around our HBCUs, and provide tangible resources to ensure we can win that contest against the Atlanta.
Because in this rivalry, winning provides more than bragging rights.
Walter Kimbrough is president of Dillard University.