Charlotte — Being a person of color and attending an HBCU is an experience like no other. From the life-lasting friendships, memories and the training you receive, I could not have seen myself at a predominately white institute (PWI).
Higher education was something I was destined to pursue. My grandparents graduated from Clark College. And I always knew I wanted to attend an HBCU since I have been around them my whole life. My dad pushed me hard to go to his alma mater Morehouse College and my mother attended Spelman College. But I wanted to blaze my path. Instead of choosing Morehouse, I picked another school that felt like home. In August 2018, I enrolled in Clark Atlanta University.
My high school was very diverse — white, Black, Hispanic and Asian American students. I was exposed to different cultures, and yet I gravitated in a specific direction. I was the only person from my school planning to attend CAU of students who chose to enroll in HBCUs.
I remember my first HBCU experience like it was yesterday. During new student orientation, being around many people who looked like me and were at the same starting point in life gave me a good feeling. In my head, I said, “Wow … this is what an HBCU feels like.” Making friends was so effortless, and connecting with people was great. There is a pre-existing sense of community no matter what HBCU you are at.
From students, faculty, and staff, it felt like a tremendous support group wanting the best for you and to succeed. At CAU, the Caf (cafeteria or dining hall) was my spot. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, the type of meal didn’t matter any more: the fellowship with classmates, roommates and sometimes professors was far greater than the meal itself, even though the food was delicious. The Caf is where you can sit down and converse with your peers, maybe meet your best friend or future partner or come up with your best idea yet.
My chosen major was mass media arts, with a concentration in radio, television and film. During my freshman year, I quickly realized that my mass media department was well-known in the industry, and I began putting more effort into joining different clubs and organizations. There was one organization that I put most of my energy into: Clark Atlanta University Television. I embarked on a direction that changed my life in my junior year.
I found my passion for television and all aspects of it. From producing, shooting and editing, I wanted to be a part of every process. Very early on, I was involved in campus, and I took pride in my school, trying to befriend and connect with every professor or faculty member I could. I gained many mentors, big brothers and sisters, and people who wanted to support me, feeling like family in a short time.
Being constantly surrounded by Black excellence, I knew I had to improve my game. When you have great friends or people in your circle, they push you to be even greater. I learned so much about myself, I came in as an 18-year-old kid not knowing what I wanted to do and walked out with abundant knowledge, a career and life skills.
CAU’s motto is “Find a Way or Make One.” I never resonated better with any other phrase during my school years. It just shows how when a situation gets hard, you can’t give up, you have to keep fighting. I admit that it sometimes got tough, and I questioned why I was even in school. Online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic were rough. I felt disconnected, and I was wasting my prime years at CAU. I made the decision to “find a way.”
In all, going to college isn’t just about the education or the degree that you receive. It’s about your life skills and the connections you make. Going to an HBCU not only prepared me to receive a job in my field right after I graduated working as an audiovisual specialist for the Charlotte Hornets, but it also prepared me for life.
Jason Sanford, (he/him) is from Atlanta but is a southeast-based journalist covering technology and culture.
Edited by Nykeya Woods