(Todd A. Smith)
It’s homecoming season at universities across the country.
Shout out to my alma mater Southern University because it’s homecoming week on “The Bluff.”
But there is a reason it’s called homecoming because a person’s college choice is literally a home away from home.
Like many second generation Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) graduates, my first 13 years of school consisted of classrooms predominated by White students and White teachers.
While I did not deal with much, if any, blatant racism from my classmates and teachers at the time, it was clear that my culture was seen as something other than or less than.
As a high school student, anytime a group of Black students hung out in the hallways in between classes, it was seen as gang related and we were advised to disperse.
Even at prom, I can only remember one song from a Black musician getting played and that was Prince’s cover of The Stylistics song, “Betcha By Golly Wow.”
Although those minor racial experiences were not important or serious, I became aware of the fact that many Black students from my type of upbringing did encounter true racism from their classmates and teachers at predominantly White schools.
Therefore, choosing to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. gave many of us a refuge and a safe space where our culture was the most important, which is something that I think many White kids take for granted because they are seldom in the minority in America.
For four years at Southern, I totally forgot that racism existed in a way.
As a Black man, it is impossible to totally forget about racism.
But at an HBCU, incidents of racism occurred away from “The Yard” as many call their college campuses.
While many Black college students choose predominantly White institutions (PWI) because they believe it prepares them better for the real world because the schools are more diverse racially, I think that that perspective is overrated because Black people have had to deal with real world racism since 1619.
Therefore, four or more years away from that reality could only prepare you better for the “real world” because attending an HBCU gives many Black students a sense of self and sense of pride that they might not receive at a PWI.
Black people have their entire lives to deal with racism.
Therefore, a four- or five-year reprieve will not make you totally forget how things work for us in a predominantly White environment.
Trust me, racism will await any Black person entering a cruel and harsh White corporate America to paraphrase Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) in “Jungle Fever.”
Furthermore, because of racism and segregation in America, Black families have created legacies at HBCUs across the country.
Although many people believe we have come a long way when it comes to race relations, which we have in some cases, much has stayed the same.
While my father enrolled at Southern University straight out of high school, my mother first went to a PWI (what is now known as University of Louisiana at Lafayette) before transferring to Southern a few years later.
While at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), my mother dealt with racism from teachers not willing to give Black students higher than a “C” to seeing Black students not having a roommate in the dorms because the White students refused to room with them.
Realizing that she was not wanted at ULL, my mother made the right decision to attend a school that wanted her and accepted her and that was an HBCU.
No longer did she have professors hellbent on seeing her fail.
At Southern, she had professors hellbent on seeing her succeed, while changing the trajectory of her family forever.
That nurturing feeling is what makes HBCUs so special to Black students.
At PWIs, you might have to deal with racism from students and professors on a regular basis.
But at an HBCU, Black students will feel wanted and welcomed by those who in some instances become surrogate parents while young adults get their first taste of life away from home.
More importantly, seeing so many educated Black men and women as administrators and professors can become life-changing for Black teens who did not grow up around educated and professional people who look like them.
For my parents, outside of their schoolteachers and preachers, the first time they spent real time with well-to-do Black people happened while attending an HBCU.
Seeing those role models daily probably gave them the motivation to achieve their academic and career goals.
Even during my time at Southern, I had a fraternity brother who said that he did not grow up around educated Black men and did not have many positive role models.
However when members of Kappa Alpha Psi’s Guide Right program, many from Southern, came to Opelousas, La. to mentor young Black males it changed his life’s trajectory.
He made it up in his mind to go to Southern and join Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity, Inc. because of the impact that these educated men had on him while he attended high school.
That young man graduated from Southern with a degree in Chemistry and has enjoyed a great career and has a great family that he is raising.
What kind of life would his children have had if they did not have a college educated father in the household to admire?
So when Black people choose HBCUs, it can become a family-changing decision.
When Black people go back “home” for their homecomings, it is because that place changed the trajectory for the people truly growing up in their homes.
Can that happen for Black students at a PWI?
But there is nothing like having something designed for us and often by us, dedicated to us and that changes us and our families forever.