Instead of Sunday May 20th, it was Saturday, September 22nd. Instead of the dress code consisting my trusty white dress shirt, black dress pants and versatile Big N Tall shoes, it was my Negro league T, black jeans and my done for New Balances, which I finally got rid of Monday. Instead of me walking across a aluminum stage/platform singing "Hail Alma Mater," I rode Bonnie down Delaware Avenue to the strains of my new theme song; "Like we always do at this time, I go for mine, I got to shine...."
Sadly, I did not pick up this long-dreamed of piece of paper from our president, who I've longed to tell about himself for a minute. My moment of truth came from the polite, yet hood postal clerk said, "here you are sir, that looks really important." "It is," I said with an ear to ear, 32 on display grin as I walked out of the post office. I carefully opened the envelope to see my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications from Delaware State University conferred to one Christopher James Stevens.
While it certainly wasn't the fairytale ending I had hoped for when I entered DSU in the fall of 2001, it was still the finale, period. And as I walked back to Bonnie, smiling and wondering if tears were going to come, I realized that I had done it. I had earned a degree from an accredited institution of high learning. An HBCU to boot. The pride I feel speaking, thinking, feeling, even typing that four-letter acronym is indescribable. Which is why this entry is about the importance of our schools and the titles we carry as alumni.
For those who aren't familiar with the changes taking place at Delaware State, our president, Dr. Allen L. Sessoms, believes that in order for Delaware State to grow and prosper as a University, the HBCU tradition should be cast aside in the name of diversity. As he once told our student newspaper in his first year on the job, "the only color I care about is green." He's gone out of his way to prove this fact as the majority of new hires at DSU have been people that don't exactly look like you and me. While the student population remains largely black (81 percent as of '05-'06 enrollment numbers), it still speaks to a gentrification effort at a school that has largely been known as one for African-American kids who weren't great students, but worked hard enough to go to school and thrive at Delaware State. I feel that those kids are going to get lost in the shuffle if one less option is taken away from them like this administration is trying to do. How do I know these kids can thrive if given the opportunity? Simple. I was one of them.
While my natural intelligence astounded and thrilled teachers from Kindergarten through 6th grade, letting it carry me through junior and senior high school was not an option at all, and my grades struggled. I graduated from Howard High School of Technology in 1999 with a GPA that wouldn't even be good enough for R. Kelly's school of songwriting. However after 2 solid years at Del Tech, which helped me find myself, I was able to get my low-GPA having ass into DSU and become the journalistic tour de force I'm on my way to being.
Personally, that's one of the things I believe Historically Black College and Universities have always been about; if you want help and you want to learn, you've got a home here. We don't have to be rocket scientists to see that it's an unequal playing field. While our schools are forced to accept more non-black students, the enrollment of African American students at white institutions has either remained the same or even gone down. And those numbers were never large to begin with. The black student population at the University of Delaware? 6 percent. Yes, 1,2,3,4,5,6.
While no one is saying our kids should exclusively be binded to attending HBCUs, why take that option away from the ones that want to attend? If Jimmy Joe or Mary Ann can rely on their parents' connects to get into Stanford, Miami (FL), Penn, etc., why are we making room for them at our schools that they don't know about, don't care for, and let's be real, possibly not welcome? No one can convince me that the average white kid knows about the rich tradition and history of Howard, Hampton, Spelman, Morehouse, Tennessee State, Tuskegee, et al. Racist? Your opinion. Truth? Can't argue that.
This is why it's important for us as newly-minted, or even rusty with some nicks in it alumni to speak up, stand up for and be proud of our schools and become successful so that black kids can see if you want to go to school there are places for you where you can feel comfortable, not just be a barcode number, and THRIVE while learning about our history and being around people just like you. White America has had that from beginning. We've only had it for 150 years. We can't let it be taken away from us. Not when we've still got so much greatness coming in the future.
So while I look at my degree with pride and a sense of relief knowing the college chapter of my life is over, a new one is just beginning; HBCU alumni. And I take it very seriously. We all should.