The first man I fell in love with took a lot from me…but I’m grateful that the one thing he gave me was worth double what he took. He gave me love for myself. He taught me that I was truly beautiful. Until I was 15, I was under the assumption I was ugly. Once I found that inner confidence, there was nothing anyone could say to shake that. When I heard whispers of gossip, rumors, and teasing from my peers, I no longer felt the need to address them. Even on my worst days I still had confidence that I looked good. I took my confidence everywhere with me like a purse containing my most precious gifts. I excelled in the classroom because of it. I found out that my favorite subject to study was History. I loved going to History class because it came easy to me and I enjoyed the homework because I learned so much. Throughout my high school matriculation, I maintained my love for History even when I didn’t have a good History teacher. I looked up information on my own to gain more understanding. I was particularly interested in Ancient Civilizations. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture were my favorite. The way they lived, loved, invented, and dressed kept my adolescent brain reeling. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to major in History in college since I would be forced to go. But where would I go?
At my high school, it was common for graduating seniors to go to three types of Universities. Whichever of the three you went to said a lot about who you were as a person. The drug-friendly, party types went to Radford University or Old Dominion University. The brainy, future government workers with degrees in neuroscience went to George Mason University or Virginia Tech. Lastly, the ones who wanted to go to college to get away from their parents went to Virginia Commonwealth University. We were all encouraged to apply to one of these schools. Counselors took us on tours of these schools. It was drilled in our heads that these were the schools you were to aim for when working for a good GPA and high class ranking.
Even though there are five accredited Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Virginia, we were never really encouraged to apply there unless you fell into one of these categories:
- As a back up just in case your top school didn’t pick you
- You were an athlete (especially if you had bad grades)
- Your GPA was 2.5 or less
- You’re an average intelligent black person
When it was my turn to make a college decision, I was ready to apply to the same schools all my friends applied to even though the thought of going to college with the same people I grew up with made me want to bang my head into the closest wall. None of the colleges I was force fed felt like a good fit. Some were too big and I was afraid of getting lost. Others were so small I was sure I would be one of twelve people in classes. Nothing seemed to fit me. I knew I wanted to cheer in college so whichever school I picked had to have a good cheer team. My parents, counselor, and coach were all anxiously waiting for my decision. But I was not making a move until I found the cheer team of my dreams!
It was January of my senior year when my dreams came true. I was dragging my feet and still hadn’t applied to one school. At the time, my older twin cousins played basketball for Delaware State University and were having a seasonal game close to our house. My parents decided we would go to the game to support them. Reluctantly, I went, hoping to ward off boredom by peeping out some cute college guys. The game was held at an HBCU on the Eastside of Baltimore City. I didn’t know much about HBCUs but I knew their cheerleaders were usually untalented pep squads that didn’t tumble, stunt, or compete. These were the three prerequisites for me to consider any group of uniformed smiling women a REAL cheer squad.
Before the game started, I sat in the stands with my family, people watching with my earphones in. Both mens basketball teams were warming up on the court. The stadium was packed and the band was warming up by playing some of the hottest hits of 2008. The band dancers stretched on the opposite side of the court. Various fraternities and sororities grouped together flashing hand signals and voice calls to each other. I watched as the home team cheerleaders strutted into the arena with their sports bags. Their bright orange two piece uniforms complimented all their brown skin. As I looked down the line up, I couldn’t help but notice every single one of them was different and extremely beautiful. Some were tall, some were short but they all had abs, long curly hair, and silky skin covered in flawless make up application.
The cheer team warmed up behind the hoop in a large safe zone. They grouped up to stretch and talk and I couldn’t help but wonder which one was the captain. Every good cheerleader knows that the skill set of the captain determines the expectation for the squad. You can always find the captain because she’s the one who stretches the least amount of time, doesn’t gossip because she’s busy planning line-ups, & is running back and forth relaying information from the coach to the team.
I saw her. She was the smallest of them all and I knew she was a flyer (the one who gets tossed in the air). She lined the girls up and to my surprise, one by one I saw each cheerleader tumble. Some of them even displayed advanced tumbling skills. For ten minutes, I watched what I thought was an elementary skilled team perform skills that belong to advanced competition teams. The entire game I was entranced by these cheer unicorns. They were the best of both worlds. Like most HBCUs, they kept up the traditions of shaking cheers and provocative dancing while also tumbling from one end of the court to the next and flawlessly pulling off stunts seen on the national level.
We couldn’t get home fast enough for me to research this magical squad. I spent hours looking at videos of their competitions. They were better than I thought. They were ranked nationally, conference champions, & trendsetters in the cheer world. How had I never heard of them?…Well, this school was never on the list of acceptable schools to apply to.
The next week I told my mom I wanted to apply to the school. She excitedly helped me print and fill out the online application. “We need to go on a campus tour.” And in true mom fashion, she set up a tour for the following weekend. The tour wasn’t even over before my mom and I looked at each other in amazement. this school was PERFECT! The campus was gorgeous and spread out but not too big that I couldn’t walk from one end to the next. The people were mostly black but all of them were so different. There was black people from all over Africa. Black people from Canada, the US, the Caribbean and even Europe! I didn’t even know black came in that many flavors and shapes.
After the tour, Mom said we should turn in my application and see if there was an admission counselor we could talk to. I waited nervously for the counselor to see us. I hoped my essay would impress them.
“Janae Davis?” A darkskin woman with a a bright red and white Delta Sigma Theta Varsity Jacket said emerging from the back. We followed her to her office. She was bright and cheery with big bouncy hair that moved every time she laughed. Nervously I handed her my application packet. She asked me get-to-know-you questions while she flipped absent-mindedly through my paperwork.
“Welcome to Morgan State University, Janae!” She said extending her hand.
“What?” I said confused. She didn’t even read the first sentence of my essay and briefly glanced at my transcript. “Here.” She said laughing. She handed me a bag filled with school paraphernalia. There was pens, notepads, water bottles, t-shirts, & a planner.
“What just happened?” My mom asked as we both settled into the seats of the car.
“I.have.no.idea…” Simultaneously we screamed in excitement shaking the car with our movements.
“Janae got in to Morgan!” The entire two hour car ride from Baltimore, my mom called every person she knew and recanted the story of how I got accepted in five minutes.
Looking back on this experience, I am in awe of God’s favor in this situation. I never thought I would be a product of an HBCU because like most ignorant Americans, I was unaware of the unique experience that HBCUs around the nation provide not only for black Americans but for anyone around the world who is tired of the monotony of our current education system.
Since leaving my beloved Fair Morgan, I’ve had several conversations with people who wonder why HBCUs are important. I always give the same answer because it is also the reason I decided to study History: “Regardless of your ethnicity (black or white) HBCUs are the unspoken heroes of our nation. They hold a place in our history that is rarely recognized but was integral in us moving from slavery and Jim Crow to integration and equality. In order for us as a people and as a nation to move forward and progress healthily, we have to know our past in its entirety. HBCUs are the key to the legacy of the Black American and are the extended family you never knew you needed that is always rooting for your continued success. Once you are here you are apart of an irreplaceable family.”
Before attending Morgan State University, I knew history was important. I knew blackness should be accepted. But Morgan taught me that black should be celebrated and Black History is involved in every single fiber of the founding and advancement of this nation. Black people had their hand in everything from creating traffic lights to inventing the microphone we use to talk on the phone. We created the formulas that sent astronauts into space and discovered that insects can hear. We discovered treatment for glaucoma and eyesight. All these things I learned going to my different classes. In biology we learned about black scientists. In psychology we learned about black therapist and psychoanalysts that helped create spectrums and diagnose mental diseases. Even in physical education classes we learned about record breaking athletes who walked the same halls of my prestigious university. My friends who attended PWI (Predominately White Institutes) would come home and tell me of the same things they learned at their school and I felt so good when I could tell them that I learned that and I learned about the black and brown men and women who made those things possible. It empowered me and taught me a pride I never knew I needed.
I was finally starting to learn to love black!
k, good talk