I can remember the day like it was yesterday. It was March of 2004, I was in the second semester of my freshman year at Thee Illustrious Clark Atlanta University, and for the first time in my life, February had come and gone without it ever occurring to me that it was Black History Month, and without even so much of a celebration. I remember mentioning that to some friends as we were walking back to our dorms, and one of them replied, “That’s because when you go to an HBCU, every day is Black History Month.” And he was right.
From the moment that I stepped foot on that campus, I was reminded in each class, no matter the subject, of who I was, where I come from, and how to show up in a world that, no matter the progress being made, will still be committed to never understanding me, and will always make me work twice as hard to only to receive a fraction of what is being offered. I was also taught, as CAU’s motto so eloquently states, “Find a way, or make one.” That our ancestors did not wait around for opportunities to be handed to them, that they fought and suffered losses of epic proportions for them to not only see their dreams manifest, but to blaze a trail for the generations that followed so that we can continue to carry on their legacy and reap the benefits of their sacrifices.
My decision to attend an HBCU was one that didn’t require much thought. From growing up in a pro-Black household to attending all-Black schools from kindergarten through high school, I knew that when the time came for me to start planning for college, going to HBCU was the only option for me. In fact, when I first began talking with my mother about college, I didn’t even know what an HBCU was. All I knew was that I wanted to attend an institution rich in history that was founded by people who looked like me, to be educated by others who looked the same, and not have to worry about being a minority.
I wanted to be in an environment that embraced our Blackness in all of its glorious shades all year round. I wanted to be in a place that would give a young, Black, 17-year-old girl from the south side of Chicago an extended sense of home and belonging. And I wanted to attend an institution of higher learning that showed that same little Black girl that her classmates were more than just that; That they were her family.
I also wanted to be somewhere that reminded me that our history, Black history, did not start with slavery and end with a young Black senator from Illinois who became the first Black president of the United States of America. That we were kings and queens, doctors and scientists, and innovators long before we were stripped of those liberties and forced into a system that demeaned us and reduced us to a fraction of a human being.
To this day, when I think back on my time spent at Clark Atlanta University, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that those four years molded me into the proud Black woman that I am today. That while I was born and raised in Chicago, I truly grew up on that campus. That the lessons that I was instilled with still hold relevance almost 13 years after walking across that stage.
My HBCU upbringing reminded me every day to be proud of the shoulders that I stand on. To know that I come from greatness. To always speak of my education with pride. To remind people of why HBCUs matter. To never miss an opportunity to pay homage to my ancestors. And to not wait until one month out of the year to educate other races on the importance of Black people, our contributions to society, and that without us, how this world, sadly, would not operate.
Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Charlotte, NC. Find her on all social media platforms @withloveracquel.