During my junior and senior years of high school, I attended a predominantly white boarding school in Tyrone, Pennsylvania. I studied French, took memorable trips, had amazing experiences, and met wonderful young women. I am grateful for the time I spent there, but I frequently felt like something was missing. I was one of only three Black students in my graduating class; I remember feeling isolated, unseen, and unheard. I got along with my classmates, but I could never shake the idea that I didn’t belong. I often wondered if I made the right decision by attending a predominantly white high school. I knew I needed something different in my college experience. This led me to choose an HBCU.
After high school, I attended Hampton University. Sis, when I saw all those beautiful Black faces on campus, I got so excited—maybe a little too excited! One of my favorite experiences from Hampton was Homecoming. If I close my eyes for just a moment, I can still hear the rhythm and precision of the marching band and see the meticulous formation of the majorettes. Homecoming was epic, but I did not stop there. I was at every party, step show, and sporting event. I was everywhere on campus, except for class! If you remember, I had to leave Hampton due to my grades. I took time off to refocus.
While I was home, I worked full-time and enrolled full-time at Savannah State University. My time at Savannah State allowed me to mature and get some clarity about where I wanted to go with my academic career. Also at Savannah, I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. (Shout out to my line sisters from Spring ’86!) This was a lifelong dream of mine as my godmother was a member as well, and I wanted to be part of a sisterhood that was doing phenomenal things for humanity. This experience enriched my college years and helped me to find discipline and focus.
My time at Savannah flew by. Then one day while talking to my godfather, he said that while he was proud of the progress I was making, I needed to leave home and have the full college experience. I knew he was right. It was time to make a change, but I still wanted to attend an HBCU. After that talk, I decided to attend Shaw University. So, Sis, do not be discouraged if you made a few unexpected stops along your journey. Sometimes, it takes time to get to the version of yourself that can accomplish what you need to do.
From the moment I stepped on campus at Shaw University, I knew that I had made the right decision. I needed to be in the warmth and safety of my people to be my most authentic self, and it felt like I was home. This warmth and safety fueled me to operate at my best. I was deeply impacted by the fact that all my professors and advisors were Black. I was so motivated I took classes year-round—including summers—and graduated in three years. Before I began my college career, I never considered what representation meant or how important it was. Now, I realize that representation is everything.
My melanated education provided me the richest, most soulful experiences that have shaped who I am today. Attending HBCUs immersed me in the rich culture that is Black America, and it created the vision I have for giving back. In building relationships with classmates, I learned to apply those same skills when I graduated. I learned to provide others with the same opportunities that I was afforded. (As you can see, I loved my Black college experience so much that I made stops at three different historically Black schools!)
Attending HBCUs gave me a deeper appreciation for what it means to be a Black woman. Being around people who looked like me and shared many of the same struggles as me completely changed my outlook. This was especially highlighted when I became a counselor for the Upward Bound program while at Shaw, which provided me free room and board and introduced me to some people I keep in touch with to this day. I did not know it then, but this campus job gave me a glimpse of what it was like to be a mentor and coach.
My time at Hampton, Savannah State, and Shaw University prepared me for where I am now. And the pride and admiration for my time at Shaw came full circle in 2021 when I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Founder’s Day Commitment Ceremony. The invitation overwhelmed me with gratitude as this had been on my vision board for quite some time. It was a chance for me to speak to students and pour into them the same way I was poured into during my time at Shaw.
Did you attend an HBCU? If so, what was your greatest takeaway, and how do you like to give back?Leave a Comment