I was also finally realizing that my priorities were different, that what I needed to learn—outside of the history lessons, life lessons, and moral lessons that my parents had already taught me—couldn’t be learned at another mostly white institution. And although the debate over the relevancy of HBCUs seems to be ever present, post-desegregation, post-rise of the black middle class, post-Obama, the HBCU experience is irreplaceable. From the band director who offered me a scholarship to play in the concert band, to the campus tour guide who showed us the entire campus in 10-degree weather, to the career development adviser who said “I looked like a Howard student” before I even signed my name on the application, I found a bond of fellowship in the HBCU community. They even convinced my mom, too, who—although until recently she didn’t admit it—was skeptical of “her baby” going halfway across the country. But she felt welcomed, too, by the same love she had received from her black neighborhood growing up.
Of course, it’s not all roses, but alumni will be the first to tell you that: the sometimes subpar facilities, the dearth of on-campus housing, the lack of advanced technology, the headaches dealing with college administration … the losing football teams. But that’s all outweighed by the camaraderie, the care from teachers who’re truly invested in your success, the sense of belonging among so many different types of black folks.
My “different world,” one that I would’ve never experienced or appreciated among a sea of other students at the University of Texas, or as just another black dot at the Northwesterns, the Berkeleys, the Yales of the world, would forever shape my desires, demands, and expectations out of life. Going along to get along just wasn’t enough. And I’m so glad that I found safety in that.
Erin Evans is a writer and copy editor for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.