|4th generation Tuskegee alumni, Homecoming weekend '15|
We watched the forecast all week. Stared at it with squinted eyes and heads cocked sideways hoping that such gestures might change what it said: 100% chance of rain.
And that, that is, a sho nuff prediction of rain-rain-and-more-rain was the exact opposite of what you wanted to hear about the week before one of your favorite outdoor events of the year. Yep. No matter which device, website, or app you looked at it on, the results came up the same. It was pretty much a guarantee that homecoming weekend at Tuskegee University, my Alabama-based alma mater, was about to have a very wet blanket thrown over it.
Rain isn't unusual in these parts this or any time of year. I mean, Tuskegee is only 2 hours south of Atlanta, and everyone knows that Atlanta can get its share of precipitation. But for whatever reason, to my recollection in the over twenty five years that I've been attending the game (my first being in 1987 as a high school student) it has never once really, truly rained on our game.
Not even kidding.
Had the weather channel promised monsoons before? Sure. Had there been years where we felt a dribble-drop or two in the hours leading up to our time in the Alumni Bowl and in the hours after? No doubt. Had we even been blasted with a cold front or melted down by a nonatumnal heat wave on other years? Without question. But rain? Like the kind of straight up downpour that forces you inside and keeps you from reconnecting with all of the familiar faces that you've been longing to see? Never. As in not ever.
At least, that I can remember.
And so. We all kept our plans in spite of what those meteorologists admonished. In our minds, we knew that Mother Nature had some unspoken deal with our school that she wouldn't rain on our parade--or our homecoming game. Because for so many years she hadn't. So folks didn't cancel or back out. They rolled with it, fingers crossed and umbrellas tucked down in purses.
And you know what? It didn't rain. That is, it didn't rain on the parade or the game. Sure, we had a light drizzle come in for a moment or two but nothing even close to what had been predicted all week long.
So, yeah. Everything about the weekend was amazing. People were super relaxed since they'd been bracing themselves for inclement weather. Clothes were casual and attitudes easy. The hugs were enormous, the energy was festive, and all of it was like the big, beautiful, multigenerational family reunion that it always is. But better for some reason. I even broke two separate pairs of earrings from over-exuberant embraces with old friends.
Not even kidding.
At the end of it all, many of us said it was among the very best homecoming weekends we'd ever had at Tuskegee.
Social media was flooded with photos. Pictures of arms slung over shoulders and laughter. Some of us with a few more grey hairs and a few more pounds than we'd had as collegiates but happy nonetheless. The sounds and images are imprinted in my brain and heart. Sorority and fraternity songs ringing out all across the campus and fists held proudly to the overcast sky, singing our fight song to the loud brass of our band. All of it familiar and light. Beautiful and celebratory. And perfect.
We basked in all of it in the days that followed. Funny messages to one another and "remember when" stories. Sad-dish commentary from those who couldn't make the pilgrimage this year followed by vows to never let it happen again. Virtual hugs from those who did make it, promising those comrades that they'd get together soon. Sure, the clouds hung low on game day but no, we did not get that rain. Mother Nature had smiled once again.
Just like always.
But then something happened. In the midst of all of this beauty, someone--a man who was not a former Tuskegee or HBCU (historically black college and university) student--came down and left with a story for a newspaper and blog. He took pictures of students and alumni imbibing and doing things that, okay, probably wouldn't be done in front of grandmothers but the kinds of things that do happen at such games. This man, who wasn't of color or too familiar with HBCU culture, misinterpreted words to songs and analyzed some of the zealous chants that happen in the stands. And with it, he put on the newspaper headline, a big picture of a former student drinking from a glass bottle of rum and splashed above it this title:
"STRAIT OUTTA 'SKEGEE."
Never once did he reference what I saw and see each year. He didn't speak of the legions of professionals and teachers and community servants who were out there. Not once did he discuss his interface with the third, fourth and even fifth generation Tuskegee alumni families to see what kept them coming back to the institution for more. He somehow managed to miss me laughing with my Meharry and Tuskegee classmate, a prominent surgeon now. His camera never captured the coordinated outfits of the alumni sorority and fraternity initiates celebrating big anniversary years even though that's a huge part of black college culture.
Nope. He did none of that. And what's worse is that this is what the world got to see. Because The Montgomery Advertiser printed it.
Should students and alumni have open alcohol containers in public areas or should you smell the pungent evidence of doobies being passed somewhere nearby when you walk near a laughing group of people? Well. While I'm not condoning it, I'm convinced that such crimes are no more egregiously being committed at my alma mater than elsewhere. And sure--we can be accountable for our actions and seize more opportunities for improvement with such things. But how offensive and irresponsible was it that a major newspaper would make this--THIS--the take home message of what is, quite frankly, one of the most beautiful things I see each year?
|Tuskegee-made Delta girls from 1962 through 2012.|
I need to unpack on this for a minute. Bear with me, okay?
Okay, so check it. This--this homecoming game--this is our biggest game of the year. It is our Auburn-Alabama, our Michigan-Ohio State, and our Georgia-Florida matchups rolled all into one. Like the loyal fans and alums of those aforementioned schools, we come from near and far dressed in our school swag. We canvas parking lots, hillsides and stadium bleachers in crimson and old gold. For us, fish gets fried next to RVs, then inhaled by anybody passing by in a Tuskegee shirt (because that's the community part of our homecoming.) And exactly like those big majority school rivalry games, it is perhaps our most festive time of the year. And sometimes--just sometimes--folks get a little more excited about it than usual.
What bothered me the most about this isn't that someone wrote it or even thought it. It mostly hurt my feelings that a major newspaper would actually print it. Like, I can't even imagine an editor allowing such an unbalanced account of, say, Auburn or University of Alabama, to be written just days after their biggest game of the year. I mean, certainly such a write up might exist, but not freestanding. Not high atop a mountain as the lone flag waving to those who don't know or love our school to let them know that this is what it's all about. And you know what? They even threw salt in the wound by using broken English to boot--spelling the word "STRAIT" wrong coupled with "OUTTA" in a headline.
And no, we don't have a problem with slang. We have a problem with you intimating that it's all that we speak and know.
Of course, The Montgomery Advertiser was hit with a barrage of emails, calls, tweets, and more from angry Tuskegee alumni. A few days later, a milquetoast pseudo-recant came out that was better than nothing but "meh" at best. And you know? I'm still offended.
Even a few weeks later, I'm offended. As hell.
So that brings me to what I want to unpack about. This overall view of historically black institutions of higher education. See, in my opinion, this article (as ignorant as it was) and the fact that this newspaper published it, speaks to this overarching view of these schools. Like they are places filled with not-great people doing not-great things. Like, sure, they used to be the stomping grounds that groomed up the likes of folks such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Booker T. Washington, Maynard Jackson and even my daddy--but that was back when there was no other option.
You know, for a "regular" school.
I struggle with the fact that these ideas aren't held by only some small percentage of non-black people but others, too. My biggest worry is that this thinking has permeated my generation of young, black professionals, a generation of youngish parents whose children are now applying to and considering colleges. It surprises me how many high schoolers I encounter who aren't even remotely considering an HBCU. I mean, not legitimately so. And then there's a few others that consider them all as a default--the place you go if there is simply no other alternative.
And let me be clear on a few things before someone rises up and misunderstands me. I am not in the whole HBCU versus majority school debate. I am down with kids getting the most meaningful education they can get. For some, that will be at a large state school. For some others, that might be a tiny liberal arts college. Perhaps it could be trade school or going abroad for another individual which shouldn't be trivialized. And for some like me, it could mean a historically black college.
That is, if they consider it.
And there is where I'll stick my kickstand. The consideration. And with big periodicals showing our kids images of HBCUs as places filled with nothing more than hooligans and unruly behavior--and not places that build up excellent, dedicated, mature servant leaders, what on earth would make our kids even bat a lash at a Tuskegee, a Hampton, a Xavier or a Florida A&M? Why in the hell would they bother wasting the time or energy on an application to Morehouse, Howard, North Carolina A&T or Clark Atlanta?
I'll tell you what--or rather who: Us.
It's up to people like me and my friends who attended historically black schools to speak of the positive aspects and how they shaped us. No, not as a part of an argument against majority institutions but instead just true statements that stand alone for their own truth and merit. We are tasked with letting the world--not just African American high schoolers, but the world--know what we are doing, how our education was meaningful and how it exceeded our expectations. How we loved it while we were there, but how much we grew to appreciate it more once we left. We have to demonstrate through our actions and our reports that we did get what we needed to lead and succeed. And that our example alone is enough to keep our schools in the running when it's time for someone to consider where they'll go to school.
And man. I wish I had time to talk to somebody about how that reputation is not only important for our potential alumni to hear but also the employers they'll someday seek. I mean, I wish I had time to talk to y'all about that, but this is already getting long.
You know? I graduated near the top of my high school class. As did my three siblings. And I assure you that we all could have gone to any large or even Ivy League school. And had we chosen that (and most of us did at least consider them) that would have been fine. And admirable. But instead, all four of us chose to go to Tuskegee. Where we got exactly what we needed and more.
Take that in for a moment. Take in the fact that four high academic achievers CHOSE to first consider then actually attend a historically black college. Yeah, so this is my other great concern. That our most excellent learners are the main ones who look through our schools and over toward sexier ones that they think the whole world will respect. So here's my question: What will happen to schools like Tuskegee if the valedictory Darlene Drapers of the world refuse to go there? Or worse, are so indifferent to them that they aren't even a teeny tiny consideration because they're invisible?
|Fellow Tuskegee and Meharry alum, Dr. B. Gary, general surgeon|
I'll let you answer that for yourselves.
Oh, and before I forget--let me also add that the beauty in the HBCU is the mixture of people. That might seem like an oxymoron for a school that's filled with a majority of African-Americans, but it's true. See, when I was there? There were all kinds of kids there with me. High-high achievers, pretty-decent achievers, and wing-and-a-prayer achievers. Those from long lineages of college graduates rooming with the ones with parents who couldn't read beyond a fourth grade level. The highly affluent white collar family children yucking it up in the cafeteria with the offspring of the working poor or even the products of the state. And see that? That hodge podge is part of the beauty of our schools. Those high-high achievers became a mirror for the wing-and-a-prayer ones. Those pretty-decent achieving, first-to-ever-go-college, blue collar family kids? They grounded the students on both ends of the economic and achievement spectrum. So yeah, while I do want the valedictorians to consider my alma mater, it isn't only for the reasons you think. I want them to gain the empathy, the perspective, and the knowledge that my sister JoLai did. (She was the valedictorian, not me. Ha.)
Anyways. I'm rambling, I know.
So here's what I am realizing. . . . even if it had rained at that game, nothing could dampen the spirit and pride I have for the education I received at both Tuskegee and Meharry. Historically black colleges that I chose after looking at them along with majority institutions and other predominantly black institutions. After comparing and contrasting them and looking at what was best for ME--a competitive applicant with choices. I'm so, so proud that I did, too.
I'm glad I was given the image of those schools that my parents and people in my Jack and Jill chapter gave to me growing up. Because, thanks to that, I saw them. Saw those schools as viable options and good enough for someone like me and worthy to shape a piece of my future. And just like my patients at Grady Hospital and people everywhere, I know for sure that no one likes being invisible or overlooked. But sometimes it takes someone tapping your shoulder and pointing something out, you know? Saying, "Hey, isn't that amazing?" At which point you cock your head and see something you'd never seen before. A person, sometimes. But other times, a place or thing.
And yes, I know. Big-big schools have big-big money. And they give to those high achievers whose parents are exhausted from either paying for independent schools or just bills period. But. There's also monies for HBCUs and other smaller schools that could be waiting for someone if they just considered looking. This I know for sure.
Just ask my sister Darlene JoLai Draper, the 1989 valedictorian who was torn between Stanford and Tuskegee--both of whom had money to reward her for her academic excellence. The girl who had choices-upon-choices but who chose a historically black school because it was a fit for her.
So yeah, Mr. Author-of-that-offensive-article-that-I-refuse-to-link-here. And yeah, Mr. Editor-in-chief of The Montgomery Advertiser. You will never rain on our parade. No matter how hard you try, you won't. Because I've made up my mind to go tell it on the mountain that my alma mater--and many of the ones like it--helped to make me excellent. And a leader. And well-rounded. And proud that I get to come back to that every single year at homecoming. Just like a lot of my fellow HBCU alums do.
|My husband and frat brothers at his alma mater Virginia State's homecoming, 2015|
|With Attorney Shaton M., one of my favorite Howard girls|
|At church with my sister, soror, and fellow Jack and Jill mom, Dr. Akima H., FAMU alum|
|With my talented Tuskegee class mate and line sister, Ebony A.--syndicated radio host|
|With my back and linesister, Glencia W.--Tuskegee proud.|
|Celebrating the Delta Sigma Theta centennial with these beautiful NC A&T Aggie sorors|
|Brains and beauty--four Tuskegee made Deltas and alums.|
|My parents met at Tuskegee and hers met at Fisk. Jocelyn would later become a Fiskite, too.|
|About to hit the road after homecoming '14|
So yeah. I'm telling it on the mountain. That, no, we aren't places of beer, blunts and nothing else. We are a part of a beautiful, timeless tapestry of multigenerational leaders. And thinkers. And servants. And winners. From places that were good enough for our grandparents and parents. From places that were good enough for our spouses and our siblings, and us. . . and places that, if at least considered, could surely be good enough for our children and their children, too. As the only option? No. But as a real, true option worth considering? Hell yes.
So yeah, man. That's what I'm yelling from my cupped hands at the top of my lungs this morning. And I hope I'm loud as hell.
|Will they go to an HBCU like we did? I don't know. Will they consider them and apply? Hell yes.|
Now. Advertise that.
Happy Friday. And that's Doctor Manning to you, Montgomery Advertiser. Got that? Good.
Oh, and this: The impulsive pre-homecoming HBCU lovefest video I made in the parking lot at Grady and then posted on Facebook that actually went somewhat viral. Like 70-something thousand views. Crazy, right? And here I was thinking that the only way I'd ever go viral was through a failed patient encounter. Ha.
And this. . . . from our energetic stadium--a clip that shows a slice of life for us as college students at Tuskegee and a glimpse into one historically black college's culture. Of note here is what the song says, despite what The Montgomery Advertiser thought. (Next time ask, bruh.)
"Whether sunny or grey
We gonna ball and parlay
Keep it CRUNK every day
That's the Tuskegee way
So take your seat 'cause we're live
Marching hard 8 to 5
That's what we do every day
As we ball and parlay. . ."
And, before you ask:
To "ball and parlay" just means to go hard. Hmmm. I guess I defined slang with slang. Okay, so it means to pop your collar, do your thing and just. . . I don't know. . go hard. And "crunk" just means to live life to the fullest. I almost think of it as being so high on life that you seem drunk. Yeah. That's it. It can also describe music so upbeat and live that you have no choice but to get up offa dat thang and dance until you sweat your press and curl out.
Oh, and for the record? At HBCU schools, we take pride in and ownership of our band. So this song--Ball and Parlay---is a band song lauding our amazing band, The Marching Crimson Pipers. Any person who attended an HBCU probably has deep affection for their band, some schools more than others. At Tuskegee? We're all with the band. ;) #jampipersjam