In the summer of 1991, my aunt told her five-year old niece and nephew she would be away until they were in fifth grade. My sister and I did not quite comprehend what she meant about college or time apart for a period equivalent to our lifetime.
Without allusion to anyone’s age, my aunt was the youngest of my maternal grandparents’ children. In fact, she is closer in age to my twin sister and me than my mother, her oldest sibling. By any and all means, Tanisha has been an aunt to Courtney and me; but in other ways, she was also the big sister we never had. I remember my aunt as the high school student who watched us, every day after we were dropped off from Junior Academy afterschool, and played New Edition and Bobby Brown records all the time.
One morning, as a family, we embarked on what seemed liked a long drive. “What and where is a Delaware?” my sister and I wondered and proceeded to call it “Dela-underwear” because we were five. The family drove three hours from Queens to visit Delaware State College (It was not a University until 1993). The then-unfamiliar campus became a place we frequented between the fall of 1991 and spring of 1996.
Homecomings at Delaware State College/University was my first introduction to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). To a kid, this large place of higher education, filled with black people as far as my eyes could see, always stuck with me. Before we walked into Alumni Stadium, we had to pass through the large tailgate, which looked like everything I’d seen in a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg video.
There was one homecoming which influenced me heavily. It had to have been 1993. As a family, we all went to this particular homecoming because the concert featured our family friend, Regina Belle. Delaware State played their rival, Morgan State, which added an extra layer of tension. While the Hornets and Bears battled on the gridiron, the real fight took place between the bands; a regular fixture for schools-high and college-in the south and HBCU’s.
Morgan State’s band stood up and began to play Intro’s cover of “Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder in the key of b flat. At HBCU’s, yes there are fight songs; but what everyone is there for is to react to the newest songs each school can and will play, for the right to brag. It was only right for “Ribbon in the Sky” to be played because it was a big hit in ’93. Del State waited for Morgan State to sit down, then played “Ribbon in the Sky,” in the key of c#, the actual key both Intro and Stevie Wonder sang it in. It was a classic HBCU moment of competitive one-upmanship; in retrospect, it was hilariously disrespectful. It was extra disrespectful because in a few hours, Intro would sing this very song in their gym.
Until the absolute last minute, my scholastic goal was to attend St. John’s University. Morehouse College was the last school I applied to. I loved the idea of going to an HBCU for undergrad. However, I did not want to go to school all the way in Atlanta; it was far and it has been long-documented when black people go to Atlanta, they stay there. My heart was in New York and I was afraid I too, would call Georgia home; I compromised and considered Howard University in Washington DC. I never handed in the application.
As soon as I handed in my requirements for Morehouse, I made up my mind this was the place I needed be. To enroll in not only an HBCU, but Morehouse, by far was the best decision I have made in my life. The friends and I made and the experiences we shared, in Atlanta when it was a cosmopolitan city on the verge of being considered a top-tier major city, a-la New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, etc., was perfect for me. There was four years of a concentrated black experience in a majority black city and it was awesome. Morehouse is an all-male school, so as a black man, I have met and learned about all kinds of black men from all over the country and world, in a means which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the US.
Almost every HBCU campus has a historical landmark on it. At Delaware State, there was a house which was a stop on the Underground Railroad (as a kid, this used to scare me, and my sister teased me about it). The land Morehouse was built on hallowed land; it is the highest point in the city of Atlanta, a Civil War battleground where the order to burn the whole city down occurred; which shifted the outcome of the war. On a daily basis, students walk by reminders of our rich and complicated legacy in America, become torchbearers who further what was started long before us, and we too can make our marks on history because our presence is just as sacred as the site we pass by.
Forget anything else, I met the mother of my child on Morehouse’s campus. This solidifies my selection of Morehouse my most important and best choice. Single Dadventure exists because of the prayers and support of my former classmates. This was the right choice for me. For others, it may be any or many of the other 107 HBCU’s, or perhaps PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) as well.
While my aunt and I attended different schools, we are the two in our immediate family who share this bond. Sure there are movies television shows such as Drumline, Stomp the Yard, School Daze, and A Different World where others grasp the concept. However, my aunt and I have this in common because we have lived it; I think it adds to our relationship. I’m certain 30 years ago, she had no idea how her decision would impact me, so thank you Tanisha.
And rest in peace, Kenny Greene. You were an awesome talent with a gifted voice.