5 reasons my PhD belongs to an HBCU

Freshman year- c. 2004 Dr. McClure- 2013

Top: Freshman year- c. 2004
Below: Doctoral graduation 2013

This past Sunday, I finally completed the last leg to what seemed to be a lifelong race to finish my Doctoral program.  Ironically, I could not shake the incessant urge to keep looking back. Perhaps it was to catch a glimpse of my family who seemingly filled an entire section at FedEx Forum.  Perhaps it was more symbolic.  Perhaps it had something to do with the understanding that as I ceremoniously walked into a new future, I knew that it was my past that got me up on that stage.

First and foremost, I am indebted to the University of Memphis (U of M).  My advisors, Dr. G, Dr. Bond, Dr. Smallwood, and Dr. Gasman (from UPenn) all invested much into my success.  U of M provided me with unlimited resources, financial stability, and challenged me to master the craft of a historian.  However, I would not have made it to the U of M had it not been for my HBCUs.  Here are five reasons why:

  1. Much appreciation to that Hampton waterfront where I met my "smiley face" aka my wife

    Much appreciation to the Hampton waterfront where I met my “smiley face,” my wife Tracae.

  2.        1.    Hampton University took a chance on me.

The truth is, I should have never made it to college.  Ms. Brint Martin, an admissions recruiter for HU saw something in me.  Whatever she saw was a trait that could not be quantified by stats or through standardized testing.  She saw something in me that most colleges would have glossed over.  What she understood was that Hampton also had a responsibility (and the reputation) to mold young people into something great.  Hampton University not only believed in me, they gave me a chance to grow and to be successful.  Ms Martin made me promise to make her proud… This PhD is for you!

       2.    “What are you going to do with a 1.75 G.P.A???”

Maximizing that opportunity took time, time I may not have had if I were at a majority institution.  Bad study habits; unfamiliarity with the rigorous demands of the college life, and immaturity landed me with a whopping 1.75 G.P.A at the end of my freshman year.  I was mortified!

I quickly realized that this was not high school and that receiving bad grades was no longer cool.  So many “Big Brothers and Sisters,” faculty (shout out to Professors Foster, Blang, Robertson, Watson, and Calloway), staff, and administrators, pulled me to the side to tell me they expected more from me.  They gave me the tough love I needed.  Still thinking I was going to pledge that following year, one big brother laughingly asked, “What are you going to do with a 1.75 G.P.A?” He reminded me that pledging should have been the last thing on my mind.  Needless to say, I maintained over a 3.0 G.P.A from that point forward (And I pledged Alpha!)

       3.    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Life at an HBCU is a struggle! The “Hampton run-around” as we liked to call it, certainly prepared me for graduate school struggles.  We may not have had the most up-to-date technology, (maps or smart boards in MLK for example), comprehensive financial packages, or academic resources, but we learned to build mansions with stones.

       4.    I learned what it meant to be a Black Historian

At North Carolina Central University, I learned the long history of the Black Historian.  Here, the importance of social responsibility and academic excellence was reaffirmed.  I learned about the significant contributions of George Washington Williams, Earl Thorpe, Helen Edmonds, Sylvia Jacobs, Benjamin Quarles, John Blassingame, Hubert Harrison, and John Hope Franklin.  Moreover, I learned that it was ok to tell ourstory.

       5.    Benefits of the real Social Network

I constantly benefited from the social network that exists amongst alumni of Black colleges.  In fact, if it had not been for Dr. Arwin Smallwood, an NCCU alum, I probably would not have been accepted to the U of M.  There, I met other HBCU graduates from Xavier, Florida A&M, and Tennessee State University.  Without their support and camaraderie I would not have made it through.

Walking across that stage was a culmination of educational experiences.  I must emphasize however, that it was an HBCU that gave me an opportunity when no other school would.  Peers, mentors, and faculty at HBCUs provided me with the much-needed tough love and shaped me into the young man I am today.  My struggles gave me character and perseverance.  There I learned the craft and benefited from the vast social network.  I may have walked across the stage to receive my degree from the University of Memphis, but this accomplishment will forever memorialize my connection to Historically Black Colleges and Universites. 

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19 thoughts on “5 reasons my PhD belongs to an HBCU

  1. Hi Brian!!!!
    Congratulations!!!!!!! I am soo happy for your accomplishments. You completed your M.A. as i finished my undergrad at NCCU. This post is such encouragement as I enter my second year of Doctoral studies at Morgan. HBCU’s are a blessing because like yourself, they not only took a chance on me but taught me what it meant to be a scholar. Its soo great to see you become what our professors said we would. Again best wishes and continue that Eagle tradition of flying high!

    • Bri! where would we be without our HBCUs!? I am so encouraged to see you are doing well at Morgan. You will have many tough days but always remember that you are prepared for them! Please do not hesitate to use me as a resource, even if it is just to vent!

      Best wishes!

  2. Great read! Happy to see you paying homage to the people and institutions that helped you along the way. You have an amazing story that is inspiring.

  3. Very nice family. You are an excellent example for my kids, your little cousins that no matter what the obstacle is or how difficult the journey may be, if you truly apply yourself there is no goal that cannot be reached. I am so proud of you!!

  4. I just got done posting a comment on my facebook page about more black parents encouraging their black youth to apply and go to HBCU’s just to turn around and find this blog link on my prof’s page. BTW you can go ahead and admit it NCCU HAS THE BEST HISTORY PROGRAM EVERRRRR lol. One thing about nccu’s history department, we WILL make a historian out of you, just ask non history majors, one class with Dr. Harper, Dr. Lindsey, My fav and Mentor Dr. Muhammad or Dr. Parker will have you running to you academic advisor to either take more classes or change majors all together. And yes I am a proud scholar of NCCU’s history department. LOL SN. Charge the typos and grammatical syntax on laziness and not ignorance lol

  5. Great article Brian! Even at seminary, ( A predominately white school) it has helped to shape my understanding of religious faith and the historical, social contexts that shapes our worldview. The HBCU experience is so invaluable and I would’ve have had it any other way. It has helped to marry social justice with career endeavors ( or in my case academic scholarship). It has also helped me to look past where I was and to envision what I am working to become. One of my mentors from NCCU is still are a source of support to me. Love live HBCUs!

  6. Congrats Brian on your accomplishments completing your doctorate and writing an encouraging piece. I agree that the HBCU provides you personalized experience — a situation where you are known not just by your peers but your professors as well (and they do not let you off the hook). My experience at Howard was life changing and I would not trade it for anything.

  7. Brian – Let me first congratulate you on both your academic accomplishments as well as this post. This is a very important site that too many Black teens (males in particular) will never see, and that is a very sad thing.
    I am out of Chicago. I am middle aged, no kids of my own and was never blessed to find the right woman to marry. Twenty five years ago this year through circumstances outside of our control, I met a then two year old boy who’s name I will say is (Dday). Dday was living with a single parent relative at the time even thou both his biological parents were alive and he knew who they were. As time would pass, Dday and I grew close as father/son. By the time he reached high school I served as the primary parental figure but not with legal responsibility. Dday went to one of Chicago’s worse public high schools. I would have made a different choice but did not have that control. So we made lemonade out of the lemon. Dday graduated with a 3.3 GPA acceptance to Tuskegee University on a Gates Millennium scholarship. Like you, an admissions recruiter for TU saw something in him no one else would have seen. Like you, bad study habits; unfamiliarity with the rigorous demands of the college life, and immaturity landed him with a whopping sub 2.0 G.P.A at the end of his freshman year. Like you he had to come to realized that this was not high school and that receiving bad grades was no longer cool (seriously). In fact, as I read your five points it is scary how exacting your five points are the same for Dday.
    Today Dday works and lives in Houston. We have not seen or spoken to each other in three years. It was a six and a half year war just to get him out of undergrad and that war took its toll on our relationship. A choice had to be made and I chose success for his future. He has his degree. Very recently I heard through one of my friends who is on FB that Dday announced on his FB page that he would be entering a MBA program at Prairie View. I wish him nothing but success at this stage and beyond. I hope that both you and Dday will one day give the same (if not even better) to some really young Black male (preferably someone you never knew before) the same that was given to you. Congratulations.

    • Thank you for your response. I hope this site has provided some information of interest to you. It is my hope that the site continues to spread important information, little known facts, accomplishments of our institutions. You can play a major part in ensuring as many people as possible stumble across the site!
      Your story is very moving. Like Dday, I had to confront reality. No matter how well my parents, mentors, advisors, teachers, family or whomever tried to show me the way, it was up to me to make the final choices for better or for worse. You are to be commended for the efforts of reaching out to support our youth. In my small and humble way, I hope to continue to do the same thing.
      God bless.

  8. Brian, so proud of your accomplishments and your confirmation of the value provided by your unique educational institutions. Also a product of the HBCU experience, I can personally attest to the love, support, challenges, motivation, and personal (sometimes, unwanted…but needed) attention my university “family” provided along my journey. Obviously, the strong foundation set in place early in life by God, your parents, and your siblings, provided you with the strength and perseverance to sustain you through storms and other challenges associated with this achievement–and know there will be other hills to climb as you continue your “learning” on another level. But for now, we all rejoice with you, and are confident that you’ll continue to let your light shine as a beacon for others. Congratulations, Dr., and “well done.” (Charlotte, NC)

  9. Wassup, Bryan this is Ryan Brookens, Phi Alpha Theta President here at HamptonU. I;m just checking in and congratulating you on earning that PhD…I stumbled across your blog tonight and already enjoying your posts. Stay in Touch!

  10. I am thrilled to have come across your page and blessed you took the time to pay homage to your HBCU experience. I too graduated from two HBCU’s; The FIRST HBCU Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and North Carolina A&T State University. My experiences at both schools were amazing. Now at 24 I am a college English instructor, but unfortunately feel “stuck”. Meaning I applied for a PhD program, was wait listed and did not get in. After a year of teaching part-time on the collegiate level I was offered a temporary full-time position at two schools (great right?? but not really). This past year I have been blessed to be full time; However, I am exhausted (from the lack of stability) and no longer wish to be passed around from school to school temporarily. My ultimate goal is to find a stable job. After battling with the idea of “do you need a PhD to be successful,” I’ve come to the conclusion a PhD will place me at least 5 steps ahead of where I am currently. I came across your blog because I questioned if attending ANOTHER HBCU would potentially hurt me while seeking employment. It’s always been embedded that predominantly white schools will get you further (even though I have come a long way in a short amount of time with my two HBCU degrees) . You have now inspired me to apply to a doctoral program at an HBCU and do so proudly without hesitation. I truly thank you for that and wish you much success in your career.

  11. I love your story! It’s reminiscent of my own and I am very happy you told it. I don’t know you, but you make me proud.

  12. Education and social networking are some of the great reasons I love and HBCU. Gives you that network you may not otherwise get. Congratulations. We are all very proud of you. You are the greatness that comes from the HBCU’s.

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