When I was in high school, I participated in two separate college tour trips. One was to Atlanta, Georgia and the other to different areas of Virginia. Both tours included visits to multiple Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). However, I never really considered going to an HBCU during my college application process.
Instead I decided that I would go to the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. That is until I realized that I would not get the funds I needed to take care of tuition. My next choice was completely different – Clarion University of Pennsylvania – because I knew that I could get a significant amount of state grants to complete my college career. Fortunately, an unexpected opportunity presented itself to me.
North Carolina and HBCU Bound
Around the time of my high school graduation, I received a letter from Bennett College. Bennett, an Historical Black Women’s College in Greensboro, North Carolina, offered me a Presidential Scholarship that covered tuition plus room and board. Considering that I had never heard of Bennett College, this offer came as a complete surprise.
My mind was already settled on staying close to home. It was with the encouragement of my older sister that I decided to give North Carolina and Bennett College a try. My mother was at summer camp for the Army Reserves, so my sister and her good friend drove from Maryland to Pennsylvania to North Carolina to make sure I was at Bennett in time for orientation.
More Than a College Education
Even though I excelled academically, attending Bennett College was far more than just a college education. Bennett nurtured my sense of social responsible. I immediately learned that “Bennett Belles are Voting Belles”. Many freshwomen, including myself, voted for the very first time using a carpool system to the local voting polls. This was an effort led by the [now formal] art professor and current North Carolina Congresswomen.
It was at Bennett that I found my passion for writing. Specifically, it was a paper that I wrote for my Civil Rights Empowerment class that piqued my interest. The paper was about the effect of voting disenfranchisement of ex-offenders on the Black community, and it helped me introduce myself to myself.
More than a College Professor
My professor for the Civil Rights Empowerment class was also an inspiration, leaving a permanent impact on me. She spoke about her double mastectomy and her decision to not have her breast reconstructed. Her vulnerability allowed me to connect with, and learn from, her as a woman. It allowed a certain trust.
There is one piece of advise that she gave the class that I still think of regularly: Never pull over for a police office in a place that is not well lit! She recommended that we turn on our hazards and continue to drive at a slower pace until arriving at a well lit place, to help assure that you are seen by others. She suggested calling 9-1-1, while driving, to let them know about the situation. A real life lesson!
While preparing this post, I found out that this professor passed away about a year and a half after I finished her course and graduated from college. I appreciate the interactions that I had with her and her passion for teaching students beyond the limits of a classroom.
From Greensboro to Tobacco Road
After graduating from Bennett, I decided to attend the School of Public Health (SPH) at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill. It was a huge change and took a great adjustment. After an unsuccessful first year, I took a year off before starting year two.
Upon my return, I realized how important to was to have a supportive community. I became a member of the Minority Student Caucus. This group not only provided opportunities to socialize with a diverse community of students, but it also allowed me to volunteer, and learn, at the annual Minority Health Conference.
I became a volunteer at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black History and Culture and participated in recruitment efforts for the UNC Graduate School, including a return to Bennett College. These types of activities, and interacting with students from all around the world, helped ground me as a student at UNC. Interacting with passionate students and being woven into the community made all of the difference!
The Tale of Two Chapel Hills
As a UNC – Chapel Hill alumni and as a Black woman, it has been heartbreaking to watch the “Silent Sam” episode unfold. People have spent many years fighting for the removal of Confederate statues and flags. In my opinion, it is because these items represent a culture and a people that fought to keep the institution of enslaving African descendants. These items have been used to tell generation after generation that the Confederate’s fought for an honorable cause and deserved to be memorialized.
It impossible for me to align my past with the current state of UNC. The social responsibility cultivated at Bennett. The passion of UNC students to make a positive impact on their communities. The intention of the “Silent Sam” protesters to remove reminders of oppress. None of these line up with the university’s agreement to award the statue AND a $2.5 million trust to cover costs to preserve it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Learning History with the Future
My life experiences offered me many opportunities to learn. However, learning with my sons have magnified my views on being Black in America.
My middle son is such a magnificent history guide. It was his idea to watch the PBS special, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. This documentary is eye opening! It explores the brief period after the Civil War when formal slaves and free Black people had opportunities to achieve and advance. During this period of time, the formal Union continued to play a role in protecting the rights of Blacks in America.
But the formal Union had a change of heart when they were faces with losing the US presidency. They essentially gave the formal Confederates “free range” on African Americans in the American South in exchange for the being the “leader” of the nation. The idea of Reconstruction began to unravel and the rise of Jim Crow segregation took its place.
The effect of slavery and the failed “attempt” of reconstruction is still seen in our everyday lives. Hate ‘campaigns’ have been past down throughout families and communities, infiltrating all areas of our lives. Doctors, teachers, police officers, law makers, etc. who carry bias ideas about people of African descendant exist. These biases are dangerous to everyone and have no place in our communities.
A “Not Mad. Motivated.” Black History
The series will conclude with a focus on both the flowering of African American art, music, literature, and culture as tools of resistance in the struggle against Jim Crow racism and the surge of political activism. . .all at a time when black political power had been blunted and the dream of an interracial democracy seemed impossibly out of reach.Reconstruction: America After the Civil War Preview
The “Not Mad. Motivated.” mindset to a cruel history is RESISTANCE! I resist biases by encouraging people to thrive beyond their past and their obstacles. We all are needed in this fight against biases and racism. How will you make a difference?
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