I Wish I Had Attended an HBCU

What a time to be black in America.  You either feel stifled or you’re hella proud!  Probably even a combination of both at different times.  Despite my often outrage following incidents of sheer prejudice and injustice across the world, more than ever, I have no desires or wishes to be anyone else.  I am proud to be black, even prouder to tell my students why they should be just as confident and self-aware. I’m envious that I didn’t feel this badge of honor sooner.

Having earned both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at two separate, predominately white institutions, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had known more about HBCUs during high school and had taken advantage of what these institutions offer their students as it relates to a rich history and grooming of students, turned alumni, who have impacted the world as leaders within our communities through politics, STEM, law, etc.

As described by academic journal The Conversation about HBCUs importance:

“Through the years, predominantly black spaces such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have sheltered black people. More than that, they provide an important space for the fight for civil rights, equality, and black liberation.”

Our fight that has not yet dissolved in our country.  As with most artifacts within the African American community within this country, HBCUs don’t exist without struggle.  There are looming challenges associated with debt, declining enrollment, and relevance.  I often preach to my kids, “You are greater than the obstacles standing before you.”  Despite the challenges HBCUs face, these institutions are pushing through those challenges as NBC News reports:

Despite the structural challenges, HBCUs continue to outperform their peers in some respects. While HBCUs represent only three percent of all U.S. colleges, they produce 17 percent of African-Americans with bachelor’s degrees and 24 percent of all black scientists and engineers. And, by and large, at a time of stratospheric tuition rates, HBCUs have continued to serve academically and financially disadvantaged students — known as “at risk” students in financial aid parlance.

The very engine that faces unknown futures at times, is the very engine responsible for providing the sustenance a lot of our black college students need to persevere through the rigor of college academics with the hopes to furnish a future of passionate work and financial freedom.

Admittedly, and it took years for me to fully realize it, I struggled with working my hardest because I never felt 100% comfortable being the only black, female student within my programs of study.

And on the one day we all wait and plan for, one of the days parents brag the most about, I felt an even smaller connection to the schools I had become indebted. I’m guilty of exiting my college commencement ceremonies prior to their closings because the speaker chosen to deliver the commencement addresses did not look or sound like me. At the time, it didn’t seem like he was even speaking to me.  It is because of this that I not only become envious, but I am extremely excited when I see the guests HBCUs, even including our local Dillard and Xavier University, invite to close out the collegiate journey of their graduates. It’s a beautiful thing.

What a difference my final walk to join the rankings of those before me could have been?  What an honor it would have been to return to my HBCU as an alumnas to celebrate homecoming and jam to the thunderous sound of the band during its half-time performances?  How amazing would it have been to have some of the most influential people of color to address my graduating class with words of encouragement and love that I would carry for a lifetime and pass on to those I knew needed to hear them most?  

Well, while I will never get that experience, I am thankful for the opportunity to witness the powerful speeches delivered to those who learned of HBCUs and elected to become a part of the legacy that exists in part to those generations before us. Some of the speeches I enjoyed this year came from: Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman at Howard University, attorney and political commentator, Angela Rye at Southern University, Grammy award-winning Chance the Rapper at Dillard University, and New York Times investigative  journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones at Xavier University of Louisiana.  Take away the celebrity and there is still the opportunity to be uplifted by your own likeness and exit with words that bring the journey full-circle.

Below are transcripts of some of the powerful words spoken during their addresses to the 2018 graduating classes:

Chadwick Boseman to Howard University

When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you need to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.

Chance The Rapper to Dillard University

We have to erase the stigma” that comes with surpassing our heroes.  Never set any limitation on your own greatness.

Nikole Hannah-Jones to Xavier University of Louisiana

Understand that when you leave here and go into your respective fields, never take for granted what it took for you to get here. Make sure you don’t close the door behind you.  Reach back to those who are striving to get where you are. Because I PROFOUNDLY believe we have to be the person we needed when we were trying to make it ourselves.

Angela Rye to Southern University

Be the change! Be courageous! Be bold! Like your lives, our lives, depend on it.  Because they do!”

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