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. 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.