By: Ebony Thomas
From the outside looking in, people have their own ideas about HBCUs but from the inside, the experience is more than I ever imagined. My HBCU has taught me more about myself and my people than I could have ever expected. Above all, it has taught me to value myself. I came from a majority white high school and it affected the way I looked at myself and the world. I had learned to deal with the strange looks that I got when I was placed in advanced classes or when I was accepted into the honor societies.
I thought it was normal for people to be shocked at my academic success. I didn’t think much when people, wide-eyed and confused, told me “I didn’t know you were smart.” I was used to always being second and always being the underdog. In my mind, this was just how life was. All of that changed when I graduated and made the choice to attend an HBCU.
This is the best choice I could have ever made for myself. Instead of being knocked down, I was being pushed forward. People weren’t surprised that I was smart, they were proud. They encouraged me to go farther and be the best that I could be.
There is just something about being surrounded by other black students that are on the same path as you. We are all in the same place in life, ready to learn and ready to be successful. We all have the same agenda, graduate and survive in this world and wer’re all determined not to let anything, not even our race, get in our way. They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” My HBCU is my village that has turned me into a young adult. It has shown me that black people aren’t what we’re negatively portrayed to be but rather we’re strong and powerful people capable of great accomplishments.
The first moment that I stepped on the campus of my HBCU, I was taken back. I felt as if I was home. I was surrounded by people that I could relate to and truly felt comfortable for the first time. This environment was nothing like my high school experience. Instead of being in competition, we as students were working together towards the same goals.
Everyone welcomed us as freshman because we were the proof that black students were still headed towards success. We were on the right track, headed in the right direction, and had taken the first step towards achieving our dreams. Within the first week of school, I realized just how special HBCUs truly were.
After a welcome weekend filled with parties and fun, I noticed that the same students who were the life of the party were also the student leaders. They were the ones with 3.9+ GPAs who consistently got internships and great job offers. They weren’t’ afraid to party because they were in the position to. Their work was done, their GPAs were high, and their opportunities were endless. This is when I caught my first glimpse of black excellence. There is nothing like being surrounded by fellow black people who are successful and are doing great things. It pushes you to be better and to work harder.
Being an African American comes with its own unique set of challenges, but being an African American woman comes with so much more. We are supposed to be the queens. The ones who are too pretty to get our hands dirty. Often times we aren’t expected to go as far as others and generally have to work twice as hard to get to where we want to go.
It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it. My HBCU has taught me that regardless of race, gender, or sexuality, we have the power to go as far as we want in life. This world is ours. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams or make risky decisions. Regardless of what we do, we will always be judged, stereotyped, and have people who try to bring us down but if you are happy with what you are doing, none of that will matter. Black women are powerful enough to overcome all challenges, you just have to be bold enough to do it. Never be afraid of failure.
Many people tried to talk me out of attending an HBCU.
“They are only party schools.”
“Nobody graduates on time.”
“You won’t get a good job with a degree from there.”
Are just a few of the things I heard when I told people of my decision, but I did not care for their opinions. I knew what I wanted to do so I did it and Its a decision I will never regret. HBCUs have their fair share of partying, as do most other schools. What we also have, though, is black excellence. We have students willing to learn. We have students that value an education because we know that not all of us can afford one and we have teachers that are willing to help because they believe in us and in the power of or generation.
We know that when we leave our school we will be ready to take on the world fully equppied with the necessary skills to be successful in the work force. We have what it takes to compete with other races and come out on top. We have embraced our race and the power in it. We are ready to overcome the stereotypes and challenges because we have had four years to prepare to face them. HBCUs aren’t a step backward. They are a step forward. My HBCU made me realize that I am worthy, my voice is powerful, and that I can be successful.