One Howard University student explains the impact
The world calls me a third-culture kid, an international traveler, a global nomad. For six years, my life consisted of U-Haul trucks, airplane tickets, and freshly printed visas before returning to the United States to further my education. Being an expatriate for the entirety of my adolescent years provided an array of social identities that led to a period of confusion and uncertainty of who I was.
This identity crisis began during my three-year stay in Jakarta, Indonesia and has yet to end. While born into one culture, I was exposed and raised among others. Questions began to arise as I was constantly surrounded by people who did not have my melanated skin. For 1,095 days, in a city of at least 9 million, to see not a soul resemble the characteristics of being African American led to an existential crisis. What did it mean to be black?
Howard University, a historically black university, located in the heart of Washington, D.C. was my escape. With family members who are proud graduates of Southern University, Dillard University, Spelman College, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, attending a historically black college/university (HBCU) was a legacy that undoubtedly needed to be continued to search for my answer.
In the fall of 2015, I was implemented into a culture I was never immersed in. I had always been regarded as a foreigner and to be labeled as a native in a country and culture I had become distant to confirmed my lack of identity. The cultural diversity and lifestyle I was accustomed to was not the norm at Howard, so I decided it was best to become camouflaged like a chameleon. Freshman year I observed and Howard, for me, became the ‘mecca’ of African-American culture.
Among the food, music, customs, traditions, values, norms, and ideas, learned from the people I interacted with, being black was more than just a colored pigmentation. Sensational. Rewarding. Unique. Strength. Persistence. Power. Perseverance. This is what I saw in addition to #blackboyjoy, #blackgirlmagic, and #blackexcellence plastered upon the steps of Founders Library, The Valley, or Douglass Hall. This defined and still defines me, my people, and my HBCU.
For once, I have found a place and a culture to call my own. With the help of A Different World, Martin, Living Single, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, whose characters wore Howard memorabilia, Netflix’s newest release of Imperial Dreams, Spike Lee’s School Daze and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly choosing to attend this illustrious university has had a tremendous impact on how I view myself and how my school is viewed by others. It’s a magical feeling.
Although I have yet to attend a predominantly white institution (PWI), like most if not all HBCU graduates say, ‘ain’t nothing like an HBCU experience.’ I am sure PWIs have taken initiative into diversifying their institutions, but something about learning, living, and growing, alongside people with similar backgrounds is something that I have been deprived of for so long. Despite being a sophomore, I have already had a glimpse into this popular phrase throughout my year and a half at Howard. It’s second to none. Being black at an HBCU is celebrated through the amount of love and support fellow Bison show and receive. Howard becomes your family and for me my fourth home.
Howard has produced many prominent African-American figures and to know I am situated in a place of soon-to-be Toni Morrisons, Thurgood Marshalls, Zora Neale Hurstons, Stokely Carmichaels, and Elijah Cummings's reveals that Howard is more than a higher level of learning. Howard is a stomping ground, foundation, a cornerstone toward the progression of an underrepresented minority. For people to question if Howard or HBCUs in general prepare African Americans for the real world is absurd. We are pretending like there isn’t a Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Kamala Harris, Gus Johnson, or Ta-Nehisi Coates in existence.
As Coates, author of Between the World and Me puts it, “The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body….The legacy of influential intellectuals and activists, as well as the location of Howard University, created the Mecca, the crossroads of the black diaspora”. I have not been able to fully answer my question, but each day at the hilltop, I strive closer and closer toward my answer. For now, through Howard and Kendrick I’ve learned that “black as brown, hazelnut, cinnamon, black tea, and it’s all beautiful to me.”