(NEW YORK) -- It’s the time when high school graduates make that consequential decision: What’s next?
Curtis Lawrence has made his choice. Behind those braces and that megawatt smile is a gifted 16-year-old who recently made a tough choice for his future.
Curtis was offered a total of $1.6 million in scholarships and was accepted into 14 schools, including Harvard and Yale, but he decided on Florida A&M University, a historically Black university also known as FAMU.
"They made sure to reach out to me," he said, adding that he felt welcomed at the university. "I know FAMU is the right choice for me."
“Throughout my life, my parents made sure to make me interested in HBCUs,” Curtis continued. “And that there was a place for me to be developed as a young Black man.”
Since the death of George Floyd, many students and athletes have taken it upon themselves to not only use their voices but also take action in a way they believe will make change.
As colleges overall saw a nearly 3% dip in enrollment this spring compared to last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, HBCUs are exploding in popularity both in classrooms and on the court.
Numbers show the impact. Morgan State University reported nearly 15,000 undergraduate applications -- an all-time high and a 58.5% increase compared to 2019. Howard University said that for a third straight year, it experienced a double-digit increase in applications.
Last year, Makur Maker, one of the most elite basketball prospects in the country, shocked the nation when he turned down top basketball programs, including Kentucky and UCLA.
He became the highest-ranked player in the modern recruiting era to commit to an HBCU when he chose Howard University.
“During a social unrest, the George Floyd killing, that was a tipping point of everything,” Maker said ABC NEWS. “That really made me consider a HBCU seriously.”
Maker said he wanted to give others the courage to go with their hearts.
After his decision, other prospective star athletes, such as the son of rapper Master P and the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal , also committed to HBCUs.
“It's always hard when you're trying to pick the right college and the right fit style of play or, you know, the right culture,” Maker said. “But I feel like whenever I'm given an opportunity with a wide variety, whether to lead and learn at the same time, it's a no-brainer for me.”
HBCUs started growing in the early 19th century to educate people of African descent including freed slaves and their descendants who were not allowed to attend white institutions.
Many HBCUs survived decades of racism-based challenges, such as Jim Crow laws, underfunding and accreditation issues.
Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest HBCU, has seen a 70% increase in applicants from across the country, said university President Aminta Breaux, the first woman to lead the school.
“Our doors have been open to every race, every gender and orientation," she said. "We are an open, diverse community, and we feel that there's a greater benefit to us all."
Bowie State and Maryland’s other HBCUs are now preparing for a major infusion of cash to help with expansion plans. The state approved sending a total of $577 million dollars to HBCUs over 10 years.
“I believe this is a wrong that has been righted," Breaux said. “So now we're looking to the future to build up our programs, to create greater academic innovation, to provide the scholarships so sorely needed for our students as we see a growing gap across the country.”
As Curtis prepares to graduate from high school, the 16-year-old has already earned his associate degree from The George Washington University, which means he'll join FAMU as a rising junior.
When asked what he wants other young people to know about HBCUs and why they should attend, Curtis’s faced beamed with light.
“I would say that HBCUs are where you should go,” he said. “They have a specific culture to them that other schools don't exactly have, that they can't match.”