Do these lyrics sound familiar ? Or what about the names Whitley and Dwayne, our original relationship goals ? If you haven’t already guessed the legendary 80’s-90’s hit show A Different World, your childhood most definitely missed out on television greatness. Nevertheless, this spin off Cosby Show series, changed black television and black education forever. The show which highlighted the HBCU experience was the first of it’s kind, that boldly displayed the lives of young black intellectuals. As a young black girl growing up in Queens, NY I was mesmerized from the very start and I knew that if given that opportunity, an HBCU would change my life.
Being first generation American, with parents both of Caribbean descent, education has always been key. You went to school, you performed nothing short of excellence and you were not to expect a reward because of it. Excellence was in fact the only expectation ! But through all my teachings and years of hard work when it came time to go to college, there was no particular school that was enforced. Growing up Caribbean-American, the historically black college experience was not enforced in my household unlike for many black-Americans. While going to college was mandatory and never for one second up for debate, it didn’t really matter where I got my degree from, it only mattered that I got one.
Unlike my Caribbean-American upbringing, I’ve grown to realize many black Americans had a completely different experience than I did. Many black-American parents I’ve encountered encourage their children from young to attend historically black colleges, best known as HBCU’s because of the rich legacy they possess; However I learned about this legacy much later.
While A Different World originally sparked my interest to enroll in an HBCU with it’s prideful cast, outspoken females and strong intelligent black leaders, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea; that is until my first visit to Howard University.
Fast forward to 2011, my junior year in high school and my first walk across the infamous Howard University yard. My mom and I took a 4 hour megabus ride from NY, got lost in D.C once we finally arrived and to make matters worse it was raining, and I just got my hair done. Tragic ! Originally thinking I should’ve stayed in NY where it’s dry and where I belong, I figured let’s see what this school has to offer. Shortly after, I was greeted by a handsome chocolate man who gave me a poncho to continue my tour and all was well in the world again.
But it wasn’t the handsome chocolate man or the much needed poncho that made me fall in love with my now alma mater, Howard University, it was the unexplainable essence, pride and self-awareness that had me in awe.
As we continued the tour, our tour guide went on about the famous alumni who’ve graduated from the illustrious university such as Taraji P. Henson, Toni Morrison and Phylicia Rashad. He continued to show us university landmarks like where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once gave a speech for the Ghandi Memorial or where Harlem Renaissance extraordinaire, Zora Neale Hurston helped co-found the university’s 94 year old paper, The Hilltop. As I listened, learned and fell deeper in love, what I learned most about the university outside of the accolades was from simply observing the students and the campus.
As I walked the yard it’s almost as if the students felt the legacy this university possessed. From the pride and confidence as they walk to their perspective classes or from their intelligent yet ratchet conversations they so eloquently shared; not to mention all while being impeccably dressed since they were also ranked second best dressed college in the nation, but I digress. It was the epitome of black excellence, and I was home !
Soon after my visit back in 2011, I committed to Howard University being the school I would earn my bachelors in journalism, but little did I know I would get much more than a college degree within those 4 years.
What I didn’t realize prior to attending a historically black college is how much I didn’t know. Now while I was always an exceptional student (hello again Caribbean parents ! ) I quickly realized the school system failed me as black woman. We learned endless math courses, various forms of science ( to which I still haven’t used) but what about my history as a black woman.
The school system has a way of conveniently leaving out key components into American history, especially when it comes to black history. We learn just enough, to think we understand our backstory but in reality we are subtly being brainwashed into downplaying our past. Of course we’ll learn the key players such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman but my history is richer and more complex than a few important people. What about everyone else and what about everything else we had to endure ? What about all the great things we’ve contributed and continue to accomplish ?
That’s where Howard University came in. Howard University taught me the TRUTH about my history, and not the truth they thought I could handle. Our history courses were African American courses and mandatory in the curriculum. Professors insisted we were going to learn and love our black history whether we liked it or not. They made sure to teach us who we really are so society wouldn’t be able to do that for us. The university’s bold, honest approach brought light to many issues that have happened in this country, and illustrated why many of these same issues are happening today. Our courses were real, they were honest, and life-changing. Howard gave me more than a degree, it gave me a rebirth of who I am as a black woman.
I learned self-love, self-awareness and an endless respect for my people. I learned what black excellence is, and why mediocre is never an option; after all our school motto is “Excellence without excuse”.
Being taught by successful black women and men, while learning alongside the most well-rounded ambitious people I’ve ever encountered is something I could’ve never asked for. Not to mention the parties were as lit as the academics.
Howard University changed my life, changed my perspective and I’m a better black woman because of it.
Also if you’ve ever attended a homecoming at Howard, your life has most likely been changed too, just saying