Many won’t understand that last statement, especially if you weren’t fortunate enough to experience the magic that is an HBCU, so let me school you. As an African-American woman who attended private schools her entire life, I had a very narrow definition of what encompassed a high-quality education. I flip-flopped between a predominantly white elementary school, racially diverse (yet majority black) middle school, and staunchly white high school for the better part of my academic career. When I reached my senior year, at what most would consider a relatively progressive high school nestled in the hills of one of the most affluent counties in the country, I started the process of college counseling.

Filled with common app tips and tricks, SAT vs. ACT listicles, resumes of extracurricular activities, and the dreaded questions of financial aid, the college prep process was more grueling than landing my first full-time job out of college. My classmates casually referenced top Ivy Leagues as their safety schools, while I considered myself lucky to have even one of them on my ‘reach’ list. But as I look back on things, out of the 20 or so small liberal arts colleges and states schools that were pushed my way, not a single HBCU was brought into the discussion. Likely due to the fact that I was one of three black students (two of whom were bi-racial) in my class of 98 graduating students. My high school simply did not have the subject matter expertise to advise me on such a decision, and as a result, I never considered these schools to be an option.

This, of course, didn’t stop my mother — who’s always had a vested interest in my education — from pushing me to apply. After lots of teeth-pulling, eye-rolling and utter resentment, I ultimately submitted an application to the HBCU which would go on to become my beloved alma mater. But why this push to send me to an HBCU? I thought you’d never ask!

A mother’s intuition is undeniable. They know you better than you know yourself, despite our relentless efforts to prove otherwise. My mother knew I was smart, she knew I was well-liked by my friends, and she also knew I had yet to come to terms with a very important aspect of my identity — my black girl magic (as it’s affectionately called today). Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was black. I went to an African Methodist church, was a member of Jack & Jill (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and experienced my fair share of subtle prejudices that quickly reminded me of my blackness. But the vast majority of my days were spent around people who didn’t look like me, didn’t always care to understand my culture, and most of all, weren’t prepared to embrace the more ‘uncomfortable’ aspects my blackness. Thus, while I knew I was black, I didn’t know what it really meant to be black.

This lack of identity is what pushed my parents to enroll me in Spelman. And although, at the time, I felt like they stripped me of one of the most monumental decisions of my young-adult life, I’m glad they did, because I would not be who I am today if it were not for my HBCU. In some strange twist of fate, I truly believe Spelman chose me. It’s said that Spelman women make a choice to change the world, and when asked, I never hesitate to say Spelman changed my world.

It is at Spelman where I learned what it means to be a smart, independent, proud black woman. It is at Spelman where I met the women and men (Morehouse College is right across the street) that have been and will be by my side anytime I celebrate a new career milestone, anytime I experience heartache and need a shoulder to cry on, anytime I fall and don’t think I can get back up, and most importantly, anytime I fail to live up to my full potential.

It is this invaluable network of amazing black women and men that makes an HBCU magical. It is the organic connection and innately common experiences that make HBCUs a safe haven for young black adults in today’s racially turbulent environment. And it is this once-in-a-lifetime HBCU experience that makes us the envy of anyone we meet (especially around Homecoming season) even if they don’t want to admit it. So whether your family has a strong HBCU bloodline or you’re the first to attend, wear that regalia with pride and never be afraid to represent!

What was your college experience like? Let us know in the comments below!

Oakland, CA native. Black woman in tech. Lover of all things food and wine. Strange obsession with Polaroid photos. Professional ghost writer finding her own voice.

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