When I graduated from Dillard University on May 10, 2014, I was the first person in my family, like many others that day, to graduate from college. While walking across the stage at the UNO Lakefront Arena, I felt like I was not only taking that stride with pride for my mother, but for all of my ancestors who wished they had the same opportunity to conquer such a feat. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, but I knew I was just getting started on this journey called life.
As senior year approached, I questioned what it was I wanted to do next. My long term goal for my career is to run for office and become the first black Speaker of the House, but I knew I needed something else to do in the interim. My interest in the intersection of the black community (along with other marginalized communities) with politics, religion, education and social justice is what wakes me up in the morning, and I asked myself how can I continue to be of service to others? I contemplated attending law school or divinity school and even considered the Peace Corps, but it was the day I was accepted to Yale, that I became fully aware of what I wanted to do.
Yale University is an Ivy League filled with prestige and possibility because of the access it provides. I told my mom I was accepted to Yale and she was more excited than I was. I decided to attend Yale Divinity School because of the environment I would be in; I would be able to learn more about religion among the nation’s top future leaders, and how to use religion to help further advance my community. I was excited, I am excited, and figured the journey from a Black Ivy League to a real Ivy League would be the next step.
And this is where it begins: I subconsciously labeled Yale as a “real” Ivy League in the same context of a Black Ivy League, and it is this sentiment that has compelled me to pen this letter. I was so determined to enter an Ivy League, I had almost forgotten where I came from. I didn’t question my implicit intentions then, but it is now, that I am explicitly exposing them.
A prime example is the “controversial” story about Ralph Jones, Jr., a young black teenager who was accepted to Harvard and Florida A&M University but instead decided to go to Florida A&M University. People thought it was a preposterous; how could this young man choose an HBCU over an Ivy League? And it was not until recently when I begin to question what narrative I was personally leading. Why was I so hyped about attending an Ivy League? What makes an Ivy League better when:
It was an HBCU that originally allowed me to aim higher;
It was an HBCU that gave me a backbone;
It was an HBCU that heard my cries and wiped my tears;
It was an HBCU that taught me about my heritage in history;
It was an HBCU that developed me into the leader I am today;
It was an HBCU that encouraged me to shoot for the stars and take a moon, too;
It was an HBCU that told me that I can be what I want to be, despite what my high school counselors and others may have said;
It was an HBCU that took a chance on me and;
It was an HBCU that gave me infinite amounts of courage.
And it is this courage that allowed me to be where I am today. My love and appreciation runs so deep, but it was not until I was placed in a different environment that I began to realize it. I am grateful to be afforded the opportunity to attend and experience Yale, but I am even more grateful for my HBCU experience; it has truly made me into the person I have dreamed of becoming.
It wasn’t easy, but my soror Dorothy Irene Height once said, “Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.” The legacy that an HBCU leads, will naturally allow you to accomplish your goals.
So to you considering whether you should attend an HBCU, I believe you should go for it. The opportunities (social, academic and professional) an HBCU presents are infinite and worthy, I promise. I thought about what an HBCU meant to my life, and it means more than what words can express. The love, hope and community you build, will truly help you throughout the rest of the days of your life.
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