Between you and me, there is no best or worst type of college. Many young people thrive in the bustle of a major metropolis, while others need peace and solitude to get anything accomplished. Still, for some, a combination of the two is the secret to success. Though choosing the right school is a personal step, getting an education is what is most important. As a college-bound teen, I took all of this into consideration in selecting an institution of higher learning. From the first moment on campus as a new student, I knew that my decision to attend a historically black college had been the right one.
Inside of the classroom at my historiclly black college, students and professors helped me not only to learn my subjects, but also to mature as a man. Small class sizes meant that teachers and classmates came to know each other more personally; there was no chance of being lost in the crowd. I am grateful that I was empowered to choose a major based on what I found most intellectually stimulating. By nurturing our natural abilities, our professors did more than try to get us ready for the real world. They pushed us to learn about ourselves. This self-knowledge gave us the confidence to be competitive, and the compassion not to be cutthroat.
Community service is a huge part of the HBCU experience. My historically black college was located in a big city, and there were several public grade schools within walking distance of my dorm. Many of us served as mentors to the elementary, middle, and high school children of the city. We contributed by reading to younger kids, volunteering in the cafeterias, or chaperoning field trips. At the same time, we exposed the kids to collegiate life. The sense of altruism that was fostered during my college days will always be with me.
Of course, the primary importance of a college education is preparation for after graduation.
Recruiters for graduate schools and companies of every size and type frequent historically black institutions. These organizations understand the importance of diversity in today’s world. As a result, they come to historically black colleges and universities in search of the diversity and talent they cannot find elsewhere.
After graduation, I wanted to travel outside of the United States and learn about other cultures. The Peace Corps was one of the government agencies that recruited on campus, and they offered opportunities to live abroad. Thousands of volunteers work in more than 70 countries in sectors such as business development, health education, and agricultural extension. They focus on finding local solutions to local problems. I submitted an application and was invited to serve for 27 months in the Caribbean Republic of Haiti. My assignment involved work at a retail store that specialized in local arts and crafts. I helped the store manager, a Haitian woman, become familiar with e-mail, typing, and computer bookkeeping applications. Many of us in America take these things for granted, but she told me that this basic knowledge opened up new horizons for her. I was proud to be able to bring the light of the information age to a corner of the world that was in figurative darkness. While in Haiti, I also raised money to execute a sanitation project and taught English as a second language to a youth group.
My international citizen service was worthwhile, but there were times when it was downright tough. My house had no hot water, plumbing, or electricity. To press our clothes, we had to put coals inside of the iron to make it hot. As unbearable as that may sound, this way of life was usual for all of my neighbors, and I began to feel at home relatively quickly.
I was the only black person in my original group of 25 Peace Corps trainees. At first, I feared I would not fit in, especially after spending 4 years at a historically black college. Fortunately, black colleges help give students an idea about their identity. Because I was sure of whom I was on the inside, circumstances on the outside could not easily intimidate me. With an open mind, I was able to see Haitians, white people, and everyone else as sisters and brothers of the human race. That is what the HBCU experience is all about.