I was scrolling through Facebook this weekend and my Facebook memories reminded me that on October 18, 2016, five years ago, I was coronated as the 81st queen of my illustrious Historically Black University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. If you were to ask me what the most memorable moment of my life is, I’d tell you my reign as Miss NC A&T, as it was the most mind-blowing and unforgettable experience of my life.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many HBCU homecomings were cancelled, including NCA&T’s, which happens to be the Greatest Homecoming on Earth, or GHOE, and alumni have continued to express their disappointment around the cancellation. Homecoming for HBCU alumni is an annual family reunion and a time of reconnecting with friends, old roommates, old classmates, and even those who you can’t remember their names, and reliving all of those unforgettable college experiences.
Attending an HBCU was truly one of the best decisions of my life as the knowledge and experiences I gained has made me into the woman I am today. In lieu of homecoming season, I am reflecting on some of the most valuable things my HBCU has taught me that I’ll carry with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life.
Be yourself- I grew up in a predominately white area and went to predominately white schools where a lot of the kids didn’t look like me. Because I was one of the few Black kids, my physical appearance automatically separated me for the majority. My skin color and my hair type led the conversation before others took the time to get to know me for who I am. When I got to my HBCU, I realized that everyone looked like me. I was no longer the minority. Everyone had beautiful brown skin and naturally curly hair, just like me. As a result, my physical appearance was no longer a differentiating factor for me. People got to know me, not by my physical appearance, but by my personality, my authenticity, and my conversation. It was this experience that taught me that it’s not my physical appearance that makes me different. It is what I can bring to the table that makes me different. As a result, this challenged me to always be my most authentic self out loud and to let my personality lead, rather than the differences in my physical appearance.
It’s a privilege to be Black- When I got to my HBCU, I realized I had never met so many amazingly talented, creative, and ambitious people in my life who had similar goals, aspirations, and work ethic as I do. When I say similar goals, I don’t mean wanting to have the same jobs and careers as I did, but truly desiring and striving to be the best at what we do. Being in such an environment at an HBCU motivated me to really push and challenge myself and work hard toward my goals and aspirations. It was my experience attending an HBCU that I realized that it is truly a privilege to be Black. Despite racism and social inequality that we see and experience throughout our lives, we have set a standard for what it means to be Black, and being Black represents excellence, prestige and achievement.
I belong- Can I just brag on HBCUs for a second? Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HBCUs, produce 22% of Black college graduates with bachelor’s degrees. 40% of Black college graduates are members of Congress, 12.5% are CEOs, 40% are engineers, 50% are professors at non-HBCUs, 50% are lawyers, and 80% are judges, according to a report by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Additionally, HBCU graduates are ranked as having the highest rate of financial, career, and emotional well-being of college graduates, according to a survey by the U.S.A. Gallup Poll. HBCU students represent some of the top talent among prospective job candidates. I say all this say, my HBCU has taught me that I am more than qualified for any job I apply for and any career I choose to pursue. I belong in every room I step foot in or even think about stepping foot in and every table that I sit at. As a Black woman in a white and male dominated industry, I constantly remind myself that I am qualified and that I belong in every room and at every table because my HBCU prepared me for such a time as this.
The power of networking- We have a saying at NC A&T, Aggie Pride is nationwide, and that has never proven truer now that I have graduated, and I am in the corporate workforce pursuing my career. One thing about HBCUs is that they create a powerful network of HBCU alumni who are more than willing to support, mentor, advise, and/or help you in any way that you need. No matter where I live or what industry I work in, there is always someone from my HBCU that I can find and reach out to that will help me and I have had this experience over and over again. My HBCU has taught me about the true power of networking amongst HBCU alumni and how to leverage that network. Networking and reaching out to other HBCU alumni has allowed me to build my network, get advice on my industry, make tough decisions, and has even granted me amazing opportunities that I otherwise would not have had, if I was not connected to my HBCU network. I am grateful that I can be a part of the HBCU network, helping, advising and supporting other HBCU students and alumni.