For me, creating my HBCU legacy started at home. Having a rich family history of HBCU Alumni, I was no stranger to hearing the stories of life on campus. I hear about how HBCUs opened doors for those within the black community and allowed our culture to blossom. With my family being alumni of illustrious schools such as Hampton, Jackson State, Alcorn, and Tennessee State, I often heard about the importance of these institutions. My family would always boast about their alma maters and keep friendly competition with one another. This entertained me as I realized how passionate my family was about their schools but still respected HBCUs as a whole. You would even find me wearing shirts donned with phrases such as “Jackson State Tigers” and “Go Hampton Pirates!” Though these were just pieces to the puzzle, this led me to my HBCU journey!
My family started me young with HBCU exposure. Growing up, I tailgated annually at the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis. My friends often attended as well, and we would spend the day exploring different tents and watching the game together. Seeing the HBCU bands and royal court across the stadium often kept me excited. I even still rewatch videos I have of the fabulous bands that performed over the years! I was even introduced to media centered at HBCUs such as College Hill, Drumline, and Stomp the Yard. I was enamored with the lifestyle displayed and it led me to begin researching HBCUs for myself. I found myself on YouTube watching videos of HBCU students and following their college journey. This helped me fall in love with not only college but HBCUs. To this day you may still find me watching shows and even YouTube videos centered around HBCUs.
My first taste of HBCU culture was during my tween years. At 11, I was brought to my first Homecoming on the campus of Jackson State University. Of course, I did not know what to expect but I was amazed at what I saw. Hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds were gathered on campus and celebrating the place they call home. I got to attend step-shows and even attend some Alumni events with my dad. During the game, I saw hundreds come to support their school and set up tailgating tents to show support. This moment struck me and remains with me today as I look back on my journey to attending an HBCU. I remember dining with my sister on the campus of Tennessee State and getting a true sense of the daily life of a college student. There, I met some of her friends who told me about life at TSU. This excited me as I got first-hand stories from current students and helped influence my decision.
I like to attribute my greatest HBCU influence to my mom. She always attributed her young adult days to one thing – her days at Hampton. See, my mom went to Hampton during the ’90s during what I like to call the “Golden Age of HBCUs.” During this period, society was about to enter a new millennium so there was a boom of new technology, cultures, and media. The world was introduced to many trends that we see today such as 90s fashion and culture. My mom would talk about living her freshmen days at Virginia Cleveland Hall and spending time with her then-boyfriend at the Waterfront. Her stories of Homecoming and hanging out with her friends Of course, I would brush these off as just reminiscences of the old days, but they remained on my mind as I was making my decision. I often thought, “What if this could be my story?”
Though my HBCU influence had been present for most of my life, my doubts came once I entered high school. Being at a predominantly-white high school, I was often the only Black girl in my class. My black friends and I knew about the personal impacts HBCUs had on us but we were often discouraged from teachers trying to tell us about PWIs. I knew that I would be applying to HBCUs, but I sometimes felt as though a PWI would be a great fit too. I fell into a hole where I questioned my HBCU decision. It wasn’t until my mom took me to a Memphis Hampton Alumni event that I felt some inspiration. I was met with a room full of successful, black figures of Memphis – each attended Hampton! I was met with open arms and encouragement to attend an HBCU. I learned about their impact and the guidance each school offered. I learned that I would not find this on the campus of a PWI and the HBCU culture is truly unique.
When it was time to apply to schools, COVID struck. I no longer had the luxury of doing an in-person tour of a university. I was left to what I knew- social media. I knew I was applying to both HBCUs and PWIs, but I questioned which school was for me. I knew that each HBCU had its rich culture, but I wanted that place to be my home for the next 4 years. I often found myself on the Internet researching each school that I had some interest in. I decided to apply to schools that I knew and to venture out and apply to some smaller HBCUs. As acceptance letters rolled in, I became unsure of what school was for me. I would pick a school but then quickly doubt my decision and be back at square one. I knew my time was running out, so I went to the one person whose stories always struck me – my mom. She encouraged me to follow my heart. After much deliberation, I finally found my new home – Hampton University.
Four years later, I often reflect on my time at my HBCU and what led me here. I am grateful for those who paved the way before me. My Home by the Sea has offered me friends for a lifetime and resources that I could not obtain elsewhere. Though my HBCU journey is nearing an end, I am still learning more about the impact of these schools daily. I hope to inspire not only you but others who are looking to attend an HBCU!