This post was written by guest blogger, J. Anyabwelé
OU’s antebellum loving fraternity reminded me of one of the greatest epiphanies or lessons I ever received. Nearly 30 days before I graduated b-school, my Guyanese supply chain professor and I were discussing where and/or what job offer I was planning to take. During that conversation I mentioned to him I was leaning towards the most unattractive offer (on paper) because of the support system I perceived to be there. My one-over-one manager was an alumnus of the same business school and had already told me that if I came, he would take me under his wing; my HR manager was black, my direct line manager was black, and the department VP was also black. My professor, Dr. Benjamin, began to get extremely excited for me and mentioned to me, “Javonte that is a great outlook on this situation because you have no idea how amazing a feeling it will be to go to a workplace where race is not an issue. It is the most amazing feeling to know that if you are horrible at your job, it is only because you suck and no other reason!”
Dr. Benjamin was a gregariously proud, tall, and commanding presence of a black man who grew up in Guyana, a small country that was obviously his biggest source of pride. Throughout my time under his tutelage I learned that Guyana (a black country where the first president was a proud black man as well, a fact I also learned from him) sported the world’s greatest literacy rate and other cool tidbits of black excellence that I would have not been readily privy to in a place where race would be an issue. Dr. Benjamin lived a full life on three continents prior to his untimely passing. He knew South America, Europe, and North America very well. He knew the dichotomy in feelings of being in a country or corporation or classroom where race was and was not an issue. He valued the latter more. He was happy that I could continue to experience the type of cultivation I received at my HBCU in my corporate career as well.
That cultural cultivation is the greatest single reason for my success in all aspects of my life. It is also why I implore all involved in deciding if an HBCU is the answer for their college experience, to GO!!! Don’t even think about it, just simply go!!! Specifically to the ball players, I beseech you!! Take up your own bucket and cast it down where you ought to be, as Booker Taliaferro Washington once proselytized. After all, do you really have a better college experience if you deal with the constant cloud of unconsciousness around race and social constructs that are so prevalent at white universities? Do you face the same oft-times felonious accusations that can range from rape to theft to race baiting at HBCUs as you do at PWIs? How about feeling inadequate? Or feeling that you aren’t from the majority population yet left to feel down right wrong and bad and almost villainous for choosing to be a part of your black student union? These things just don’t happen at HBCUs. What does happen at HBCUs is an extreme source of pride that is taught through text and trials in cultural participation and, well, partying! Yes, the parties are worth noting. One of the mandatory stops on the African American Cultural Express will most undoubtedly include an HBCU homecoming!
Culture is not supplemental, it’s elemental. It guides our value systems and ethos; it allows us to reach up to heights unseen for those of us who couldn’t see. It provides us with the refreshing water that Booker T. anecdotally described in his famed aforementioned speech. Kellen Winslow, Sr. was well aware of this and decided to ensure his son, Kellen Winslow Jr., was aware of this too. In 2001, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel ran a segment on Sr.’s involvement with what his highly recruited, blue chip, Southern California bred son’s school choice would be. “I told him to take a look around,” Kellen Sr. said. “Thumb through the media guides and see how far you have to turn before you get to a person of color. And if you don’t see people that look like you, there’s a problem. There has to be some reason behind it.” The problem can often morph into pent up frustration, anger, and resentment because one can feel out of place, and sometimes, as in the case at OU, not welcomed.
Throughout the year’s this HOF TE’s assessment stuck with me. While steering his teenage black son’s choice in which university to play football, HBCU football programs were not at all a part of the conversation. In the third year of my matriculation through my beloved HBCU, I couldn’t understand why there was no push for this. If you wanted to fix the problem of representation in the coaching staff, the faculty, the students, hell even the beautiful women (which was by far the most important thing to me outside of the academics as a college junior), all HBCUs could solve that problem. If the problem was potentially feeling inept, inadequate, in a minority, unwelcome, distraught, frustrated, angry, resentful, or in any way less than during your coming-of-age years, there is a cure for all of these ailments.
One day we will wake up and realize that our own is not only good enough for us, but most times, the best for us. It was the best for all of those who had to go prior to integration. The list of names is long and ranges from heads of state to hall of famers. The idea that you cannot have an environment that will truly love the athlete and get them exposure is just not true. The entire point of me writing this is to strongly suggest to the athlete and parent of these athletes, that a HBCU is also right and best for you! Wouldn’t it be great to thrive in an environment where you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that race is not an issue, where your cultural growth and understanding is not supplemented but an important part of your natural environment, where you will be embraced with a pride much greater than in how well you jump or shoot or pitch or dribble??? It’s time to come home.