“To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable!” This mantra was repeated over and over during my freshman orientation at Hampton University. Now granted, my friends and family would argue that I fail to put those words into practice every day, but that’s beside the point! This is one of many valuable lessons I learned during my time at Hampton. I’ll be 35 in a couple of days, and when I reflect on my life, I attribute much of my success to attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
I have nothing against predominantly white institutions. Ultimately, you can receive a good education at most colleges. However, there is something special—something life-changing that most Black people experience when they attend an HBCU. Here are three things that made attending an HBCU a priceless college experience for me: life-long legacy, life-long relationships and life-long lessons.
When you step foot on the campus of an HBCU, you immediately feel the sense of community. You can feel it all around as you walk the campus—the ladies wear hairstyles that celebrate their crowns from box braids to locs, the guys are rocking their best fits and our culture is on full display. You begin to understand that you are witnessing history. There are many examples of the caliber of excellence that HBCUs have produced since they came into existence: Martin Luther King Jr. (Morehouse College), Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Kenya Barris (Clark Atlanta University), Stacey Abrams (Spelman College), DJ Envy (Hampton University), and Kamala Harris (Howard University) just to name a few. Countless others have experienced the richness of attending an HBCU and left their mark on the world.
At an HBCU you are trained to lift as you climb and to give back to your community. You are taught to look at the bigger picture and determine how our country’s most pressing issues are affecting all of us. The camaraderie on an HBCU’s campus is unmatched. There is a common sense of purpose, and you understand that as you witness Black history, you are there to create some of your own. And this is because at an HBCU, you are being groomed for greatness. You aren’t helping them meet a quota or having to prove every day that you are worthy to attend their institution. HBCUs nourish you and give you fertile soil to grow and flourish. In addition to encouraging you to pursue your dreams, your professors inspire you to think bigger and go further than any previous aspirations you may have had for yourself.
The faculty and staff at Hampton were so much more than teachers. I had professors who prayed over me, hugged me, and helped me wipe my tears when I was struggling to make it through some of my most difficult courses. And it didn’t stop at graduation—plenty of faculty and staff continued to cheer me on as I started my professional career. Even now, 10 years post-graduation, they still check on me and encourage me. Most importantly, they set the example for me—the “Standard of Excellence” as we affectionately call it at Hampton.
Often, children of color are told they can become doctors, lawyers, and other types of professionals. But it’s difficult to picture yourself in these roles if you’ve never seen someone who looks like you in those positions. Because I had the opportunity to see so many professional, educated, and accomplished women of color at Hampton, I believed that I could embody all of those attributes as well. My professors were fly and assertive individuals—confident in what they were bringing to the table. Their impact on me then and now is simply invaluable.
Not only did I gain life-long mentors in my professors, but I also met my husband and some of my best friends at Hampton. These individuals have watched me grow and mature into the woman I am today. Some rocked the blue and white with me during my summers at cheer camp and others helped me stay up all night to study for big exams. Each of them aided me in some way as I matriculated through Hampton. They continue to be the ones I rely on through the ups and downs of life.
In every aspect of my life as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, I am able to apply a takeaway from my HBCU experience. At Hampton, I had to be committed to my studies if I wanted to graduate on time. It took prayer and a persistent work ethic to make it through pharmacy school—nothing was given to me. The same is true in marriage: you have to be committed every single day to making it work with your spouse. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the Registrar’s office on a campus of an HBCU knows that it takes the patience of Job. Patience is something I continuously have to exhibit throughout my motherhood journey. The determination it took to complete a professional academic program is the same determination that I implement in my career now—never giving up and always aiming to do better and be better.
HBCUs are so much more than marching bands, dancers, and cheerleaders rocking out in the stands and performing unforgettable halftime shows. They are more than the Divine 9 strolling the yard showcasing their hottest steps—more than the most lit homecomings and tailgate parties. They are more than just a sense of community; they are our community. HBCUs are breeding grounds for some of the world’s best and brightest thinkers and thought provokers. They produce leaders in every field from medicine to the entertainment industry. HBCUs also provide lifelong friendships and sisterhoods with unbreakable bonds, and sometimes you even find lifelong companionship.
My HBCU experience is one that I will forever cherish. My time at Hampton shaped my perspective of the world, but better yet, it shaped my perception of myself. I learned to be confident in myself and that a failure is just another opportunity to grow. I learned to be resilient and persevere in spite of life’s challenges. I learned to celebrate myself even if others don’t. I learned that some of the best things in life really are free. I learned to be a go-getter and always reach higher and dream bigger. HBCUs make it possible for Kamala Harris’ words to remain true: “while I may be the first to do a lot of things, I should not be the last.”