I’m Glad I Chose an HBCU- My HBCU Story.
Yeah, you’ve heard it before, but I’ll say (type) it again:
I LOVE MY HBCU.
As a senior computer science student at South Carolina State University, I’m at the place where I am starting to look back at my time in college since there isn’t much more in front of me. It’s kind of daunting, to be honest. The fact that I’ll start my walk across the stage as a college student and come off the ramp at the other side as a newly christened adult (like, for real this time) with a countdown on my student loan grace period already disrespectfully ticking away makes my body vibrate with a mix of anxiety and hope. Life begins on the other side of that ramp, but I know that I’m ready for it. My HBCU prepared me for it.
However, it comes with a story. I wasn’t always at an HBCU and (you’re gonna hate me for saying this) I didn’t always have a love for them. It took a firsthand experience for me to really get it, to understand the beauty, to believe in them, to love them.
It all starts in the Fall semester of 2017….
After loads and loads of research, standardized testing (I took the ACT and SAT a combined 8 times that year), and applications, I had finally settled on a school to go to: Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. It was the best choice out of the other schools that I got accepted to, all of which were PWI’s. It was the lowest cost, I was admitted into the honors program, I toured a couple of times, I had friends that were going with me, and their computer science program touted a 100% job placement record after graduation. A real no-brainer.
Move-in day at Francis Marion was exciting. I had all my stuff in the car packed. I was teeming with excitement because I was going to college and I’d have a room to myself as an honors student to do whatever college students do. Then I saw it. I saw them; Slave cabins (they put it nicely and say “living quarters”. Yes, they were ON THE CAMPUS. It jarred me because I had been on 3 tours and had never seen them. I told my mom that I wanted to go home. She turned and said, “you’re here now”. Yes, you read that right. My own mother did me dirty that day.
I breezed past it. I told myself that this wasn’t a sign and that I’ll make this university work. I went on to have a solid fall semester academically, but the entire experience left a little to be desired for me. Not to the discredit of FMU, but the “ick” started to settle in.
Fast forward to the spring semester, and I didn’t like what I was doing. I never really left my room when I didn’t have a class or a tour to do, I didn’t like the social atmosphere, and a certain racist (read: blatantly racist, with tenure) professor really got under my skin. I did not like the vibes as the spring semester dragged along and I was paying about $10k a year to go there after scholarships, which for me was just a bit too much. Even though I started to dislike it I was still doing well, I landed a mentor position, I was in the honors program on a scholarship with a 3.7 after the first year, and even won the Diplomat of The Year award for giving weekly tours. I didn’t hate the school, I just knew that I didn’t want to be there anymore. I needed a switch up. A BIG ONE. So, I decided to follow in the family's footsteps and apply to HBCUs.
I applied in-state to SCSU and Claflin University because I wanted 3 things:
- To keep my in-state scholarship provided by the State of SC
- An honors program that came with scholarships
- Something a little closer to home but not too close (there are two other HBCUs in my hometown)
The two Universities that met those criteria were Claflin University and South Carolina State University, both in Orangeburg, SC and so close you can whisper on one campus and hear on the other side. My mother wanted me to go to Claflin, and my father was rooting for me to go to SCSU which was his alma mater. I like to use any edge possible and, being the out-of-the-box thinker that I am, I asked my honors director at FMU to write a recommendation letter to both the Director of Claflin's honors program and the Dean of SCSU’s honors college in an effort to tip the scales in my favor on both sides. I sent them so they’d arrive two days before I was supposed to tour both universities on the same day. My Claflin visit was nice. I even met the then President, Dr. Tisdale and we spoke. However, one of the big things on my checklist was left unchecked. Then, I went down the street to SC State and went to meet my current Dean for the first time. She had already read the letter multiple times and did something that I didn’t expect: she came around from her big L-shaped desk and gave me a hug the very first time that I met her. She told me how glad she was to have me and we had a wonderful conversation.
I knew right then which University I was going to choose.
Fast forward to my third year at SCSU I have:
- A 3.96 GPA as a member of the Dr. Emily England Clyburn Honors College
- Landed numerous scholarships, worth over $100,000
- Completed 2 Software Engineering internships- Dominion Energy and Target
- Became president of two organizations- NSBE and Golden Key
- Landed opportunities with other organizations like TMCF, the Leadership Brainery (LB), and Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)
- Taken trips to places that I never thought I’d be able to go while in college like New York, Minneapolis, and Seattle (this list would be a lot longer if it weren’t for COVID-19)
- Made many friends across the country that I can lean on and learn from
- Been recognized as an SCSU Shining Star (annual award for an outstanding student from each college)
And that just scratches the surface of my HBCU experience.
So that brings us to the current point in time, and as a senior, I’m starting to get reflective about my experience, and I have learned so much and seen so many things during my time here. My college journey has been kind of wild and stressful, but it came with so much value that I’ll never be able to quantify. If you ever needed a reason to support or attend an HBCU, let me share with you a few things that I’ve picked up and observed during my time here.
Takeaways and things that I’m thankful for
- HBCUs are places that were made for us.
“As a Black man, I have been made to believe that my presence alone is a danger oftentimes leading me to wonder about my safety at the hands of white society. I appreciate my HBCU because this is the one place that I can be a Black man focused on being a student rather than being a Black student focused on how my blackness poses a danger to the outside world and what awful actions might befall me as a result of white fear.” — Cameron Burris-Greene, Morehouse Class of 2022.
When I am on campus I am comfortable in a totally different way. I didn’t think that ever mattered but it’s something that I didn’t know I needed. I don’t have to make space equitable and safe for me… my HBCU was literally built for me to be my blackest self and actualize any dream that I could think of.
I also appreciate the fact that I don’t have to code-switch, or that we have hot sauce at the ready in our cafeteria, or that people don’t clutch their purses and scoot over in the elevator, or that people say excuse me when they pass by you because they respect you as a human being. I love the fact that we uplift each other so effortlessly and how we can have deep conversations about normally taboo topics and we don’t have to stop and explain to someone else in the room.
2. HBCUs are legit.
To be quite honest, I didn’t even apply to any HBCUs coming out of high school because I believed the BS about them. (trigger warning upcoming) I thought that, in the words of Charlamagne Tha God, “white ice was colder”. I believed on some level that HBCUs didn’t prepare you for the outside world, despite that my entire family is relatively successful and they all gradated from HBCUs. I believed the chatter that at HBCUs academics weren’t serious, that they don’t produce quality STEM students, or that they lack every resource. I am glad that I am sorely mistaken. HBCUs are legitimate and always have been.
To tell the truth, there is no perfect school. My University is no exception, but if you take some time to look, there are so many resources and opportunities for HBCU students at or outside of your University. HBCUs all over the country have research programs, scholarship programs, recruiting events, study abroad programs, etc. There just seems to be no end to the opportunities as an HBCU students. I feel that I can go after any opportunity set before me because I had someone to tell me that I can.
The contrary to the false claims has evinced itself, especially in the political arena. The first Black and female Vice President, the first Black Senator from Georgia, and major political figures like Stacy Abrams and Rep. Jim Clyburn (who went to SC State too: GO BULLDOGS) are all HBCU graduates. However, HBCUs don’t just produce quality lawmakers. HBCU students thrive in all majors, especially STEM. As a Computer Science major who has landed three (count ’em, 3) fortune 500 Software Engineering internships, I can tell you that HBCUs around the country are preparing you for that job as a software engineer, as a doctor & research scientist, as a physicist, as a professor, and as the CIO running the entire technology wing of a multi-national business.
If anything, HBCUs prepare you to LEAD in the outside world. You can get anywhere from an HBCU.
3. We are more than what they tell us we are.
I believe that most of our lives, as African-Americans, we don’t understand the power within ourselves and we lack a recent display of what we can do when we pull that power together to do something. Aside from Barack Obama and other political figures, some of our most powerful examples are gone: the civil-rights movement, Black wall street, and the original societies that we were taken from. In the context of today, those examples mean next to nothing because our generation just can’t understand within the context of our current time. However, Black excellence is in constant view and unfolds right in front of your eyes in real-time at HBCUs(not just HBCUs, but you get what I’m saying here). This gives us that chance to see how powerful we already are and build us up in a holistic manner to be however powerful, influential, affluent, educated, established, and revered that we may become. There is something about living, learning and succeeding in a place with people that look like us that makes it all seem feasible and not some “pipe dream”. HBCUs and the experience we garner there are in essence revelations of our divine power and grace. You begin to dream bigger, think deeper and more critically, hone your skills, and begin to excel out of your own ambition because you know your own value, power, and potential.
4. Black — My Black — Is What made America Possible.
Ask any HBCU grad that you know, HBCUs are rooted in history and it’s an important part of their value. There isn’t anywhere else that you can be apart of living history in the same way that you can at an HBCU. You’ll learn who went there, when this and that was started, and what it means now. This is of great importance because in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, “History is a set of lies agreed upon” and you find your value in separating the lies and the half-truths from what really happened. Once you know the accomplishments of those before us and the parts of our history that are hidden, you can really step into who you are today, understand what being Black means, and decide what you will do to help us go further. It strengthens you because those narratives and scripts that you came with are unraveled.
The history that was taught to us tells us that we were brought over here as slaves beginning in 1619, reduced to chattel, beaten, separated, dehumanized so much that we didn’t even know our own ages or birthdays(read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography), freed duringthe civil war by Lincoln, then subjected to years of Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws and then granted civil rights by Lyndon B. Johnson. This history is told as if our only contribution to this country was slavery and then we were granted freedoms by those in the majority. This isn’t the story of our history. In fact, some of it is BS. Some are half-truths to support a narrative. There are so many details and important stories left out to bury the lede, but that is another argument for another time. We aren’t taught that we are builders, artists, writers, inventors, lawmakers and that we were once some of the wealthiest people on the planet and in this country. My HBCU helped me realize that we are creators. We are the blueprint. There are so many aspects of our society today that we have had a hand in influencing, from music to literature, to law, to television & film, to fashion, to art, to science, to the very identity of this country. Our contributions to this society are numerous and impactful and it is beautiful. Being Black holds weight because our contributions helped make America possible.
5. We need to invest in ourselves.
“In every seed is the promise of thousands of forests”- Deepak Chopra
My HBCU has taught me the importance of investing in ourselves. Not just monetarily, but with our time, our knowledge, other resources, our talent, with unconditional love. It’s a powerful thing when we can come together, nurture each other despite our traumas, appreciate, and invest in ourselves.
This investment in ourselves yields dividends. You can see it all through history. The simple fact that people who were once slaves taught themselves and each other how to read and write, to play instruments, skills & trades, and built HBCU’s that we attend today is proof. With each investment in ourselves, we sow the promise of many many more good things to come.
Conclusion, and what you should take from my story.
HBCUs offer a unique and invaluable experience to students. Their importance goes far beyond preserving Black history and being places of refuge for Black students, they are incubators for growth as well. SC State was the perfect incubator for me, it was something that I definitely needed. I knew that I was going to be welcomed into a family, learn, and get an experience that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. I did go to a PWI at first, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other either because I needed that also.
My story does not imply that an HBCU is a perfect fit for everyone, even though it certainly was for me. They are an exceptional option for your post-secondary education. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Conversely, I’m sure that if I chose a different PWI and therefore lived through different experiences, I’d still be there now living my best life. This is also not to imply that either HBCU or PWI is inferior to the other. At the end of the day, college is about advancing your life and it all comes down to what you value in a school, what you want out of it, and what you work for. You can get anywhere from any university. If you are in high school thinking about choosing an HBCU, you’re at a PWI thinking about transferring like I was, or just someone reading this story for entertainment, I hope that my story added a little insight into the HBCU experience. For anyone deciding to go, take some time for a tour to get the feel of the campus, attend an information session, or speak candidly to someone about their experience at their HBCU and if they have found the same takeaways. Find the institution that allows you to be your best and most authentic self and grow and enjoy that time in your life. For me, that place is South Carolina State University, and I can’t imagine my life without this great institution in it.
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