As we celebrate Black History month this February, Stark & Stark’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee interviewed three members of the firm’s family to highlight their experiences as graduates of historically Black Colleges and Universities. These historic establishments were each founded in the 19th century to afford emancipated African Americans an opportunity to pursue higher education. Even though we are currently living in different times, these institutions still serve an important purpose and offer a great deal of benefits and opportunities to its students and alumni. Please click here for more information.
Below are the interviews between all three Stark & Stark employees who were chosen to discuss their experiences:
Why did you choose to attend an HBCU and, more specifically, why did you choose your alma mater over other HBCUs?
Amanda: I am very happy that I chose to attend an HBCU. The reasons why I chose to attend an HBCU, specifically Lincoln University, is because on my initial college tour, the environment was very welcoming, so welcoming, it made me feel at home. *The college class size resembled my high school class size. (Approx. 20-25 students)…I recognized I was more than just a number in my class AND my professors actually knew my name! Further, I also decided to attend this University because it is 1 hour 45 minutes from my family home, so on weekends, if I wanted to, I could drive home and still be close to my immediate family.
Danielle: I can honestly say I have always wanted to attend an HBCU, from watching it being portrayed and represented on television to my favorite teacher, Ms. Powell in high school who attended an HBCU. She was not only a teacher, but also an advisor, a friend who pushed me to do my best in everything. Ms. Powell made me believe and know that I could do anything that I aspired to do, she made me think outside the box and how to go after everything. Attending a high school were there were no other teachers that looked like me besides her, she made sure that we knew the contributions of our people , our history and made sure it was expressed throughout the school year.
I attended an HBCU tour in high school in my junior year accompanied with my mother. We toured numerous institutions, but once I stepped on the campus then known as Saint Augustine’s College it immediately felt like I belonged here. Although smaller in stature it was big on grace and style; it screamed success and pride in every way. I could see myself walking the yard (the campus) I knew this is where I wanted to be.
Trina: I wanted a college that would help me succeed in my education and my personal growth as well. I needed a school that would prepare me for what was next. North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is part of the UNC school system and so I knew I would be able to benefit from being educated by an HBCU that operated within a PWI school system. This was important to me as a member of student government all four years. Each year I sat on the Student Board to ensure the needs of NCCU were not lost within the framework of the UNC school system and that our voices were heard. So, I used what I learned in classes and applied it towards a collegiate bureaucracy that would help grow as a negotiator and policy maker. I was on the Board that knocked down changing the name from NCCU to UNC -Durham (this debate continues). For me, retaining the NCCU name was important in honoring our founder and heritage.
I chose NCCU because North Carolina is my second home. I knew with all the family I have in NC, I would never be home sick. A few of my family members also graduated from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) so it was ultimately a legacy decision.
What makes the HBCU experience different than the predominantly white institution experience?
Amanda: During homecoming week, the atmosphere makes you feel as though you are attending a multi-generational cookout. In addition, it gives everyone an opportunity to develop relationships with alumni, and other HBCU students who come on your campus to celebrate with you. Lastly, the main experience is the historical legacy that the school continues to hold.
Danielle: Attending an HBCU is an experience like no other and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It is different because here you are not a minority, you see representations of yourself on all levels. You are not made to feel inferior or less than, you are welcomed and instantly you are taught that you can and will succeed. You are opened up to an education that is otherwise not taught or even focused on in predominantly white institutions. We are taught about the sacrifices and the power of our people to succeed and how to become successful in any profession that we so choose. We are not only educated at a very high level in all areas but also taught how to succeed in a not so just world and how to overcome adversity and strive despite the systems that may be set up against us. We work harder than we ever have.
Trina: HBCU professors seem to have a vested interest in seeing its students of color succeed. When HBCUs were founded many years ago, HBCU’s primary purpose was to offer students of color an opportunity to obtain a quality education at a time when students of color were not allowed to attend PWIs. The support I had from my classmates were the fuel to my greatness. I can’t say that I would have had that same support at an PWI. HBCUs are committed to celebrating African and African American history and sharing that knowledge with the world without toning it down. That is also very important to me. Most of us are prideful people and we should be. The more I learned, the more excited I was about “Who I AM”!
For some, there is still a debate regarding the value and importance of HBCUs after the Brown v Board of education ruling and subsequent integration measures in the US. What would you say is the value of such institutions today?
Amanda: I believe that the value of such institutions today still hold true to their name, legacy and value as they did when they were originated. HBCUs were created to provide a higher education for African Americans during a time when it was prohibited for them to pursue one. HBCUs have a good reputation of producing notable academic achievers such as Vice President Kamala Harris-Alumni of Howard University, Author and Pulitzer-Prize winner Alice Walker-Alumni of Spelman College, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall- Alumni of Lincoln University-PA. Our African American predecessors who attend HBCUs broke barriers that we continue to do.
Danielle: Some may debate whether HBCUs are still relevant or needed and to that I say of course they are still relevant. These great institutions have shaped some of the best minds in the world, they have produced leaders in all areas of life. HBCUs are responsible for the many great achievements that have contributed to the development and success of this country Many of the prominent leaders of the past, present and the ones that are being shaped today are products of an HBCU; from freedom riders, civil rights activists, senators, doctor, lawyers, teachers to sports figures, actors to the Vice President of the United States of America all are products of an HBCU.
Trina: Over the years, we’ve seen how HBCUs played a key and significant role in the advancement and enrichment of people of color. Not just on campus but nationwide. Think of the sit-ins and the marches. The HBCUs were always on the front line and they continue to be when it comes to advocating for justice and influencing policy. Additionally, HBCUs continue to honor their students by placing a high value on seeing the students succeed while in college and beyond.
What advice would you give to high school students about the possibility of considering an HBCU?
Amanda: Research the HBCU that you plan on attending, and make sure that the atmosphere meets your individual learning needs. Also, make sure that your intended major is offered at that school. It’s the best 4 years of your life, and you want to enjoy every minute of it!
Danielle: Being a member of one of the most illustrious and the largest Black Letter Greek Organizations in the world, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated we are invested to serve our communities as a lifetime commitment; it does not stop just because you graduate from college; you are charged with being of service, being an agent of change, to stand up and have a voice to advocate for those in need, to lead and contribute. When I speak with or mentor a high school student whom may be considering an HBCU, I tell them it is an experience that will not only shape your mind, but it will shape your life. It will prepare you for everything in the world and more. I tell them that you will be pushed to be great and that you have to work hard and that nothing is given to you, you earn everything and what you earn is something that is priceless and can never be taken away.
Trina: Choosing an HBCU does not mean you are choosing inferiority. If you research the educational backgrounds of a lot of impactful African Americans, you will learn that they graduated from an HBCU. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, engineers, etc. – you name it. Ultimately, choose a school that cares about you and makes you feel good. From the first day I stepped foot on NCCUs campus, it all just felt good and felt like family.
What is your greatest takeaway from your time attending an HBCU?
Amanda: The knowledge of how many Caribbean students come to Lincoln University to receive higher education because they don’t have that opportunity in their home country. I learned that my university, in particular, has been educating African Americans, when we as the African American race were prohibited to obtain any degree of higher education, or an education at all. The African Americans during that time were relentless! The memorable friendships that you develop during your time at the HBCU, and beyond graduation are valuable and endless. Just knowing that a distinguished dignitary (Thurgood Marshall)-and other notable dignitaries walked the same “Yard” as I did, is an Amazing feeling!
Danielle: My time at Saint Augustine’s University has shaped me like no other experience, it has given me my voice and allowed me to leave my mark on this world in more than one way. I cannot name one thing alone fore there are too many things that I have taken away with me. I have a family that will stand the test of time, that will always welcome me and others with open arms outside of my natural born into family. I have a sense of pride and achievement that knows no boundaries. I have a confidence that when I walk in the room my head will forever remain high, the crown that has been placed there can never be removed. I have this stride in my step, wisdom in my head, love in my heart and fight and power in my blood and that has been awaken and will forever live inside of me. Saint Augustine’s University has allowed me to cross the sands into a Sorority whose founders and members have marched in the Women’s Suffrage March, been the first Black U.S. Congresswoman in history, to the first African American to seek a presidential office against the southern face of segregation. I am counted and etched into history which can never be erased. I have earned the ability to stand on the shoulders of some of the greatest women in the world who dedicated their lives for advancement, equality and justice; these are just some of my greatest takeaways from this institution. The unity of a race that so many teared down and separated found a way to cultivate to be one, to laugh, to cry, to live together and to be great no matter. Saint Augustine’s University has given me more than I could ever give back. I AM FALCON PRIDE ALL THE WAY.
Trina: Learning that although obstacles may show face, I will give it no power as I have been equipped with the knowledge and tools to tear them down. That was said to me by one of my professors during my junior year. I still have the paper I wrote it down on because I need to see it and read it often as a reminder of how hard I’ve worked to be where I am today. I am a better me for attending an HBCU. No doubt about it. I love my HBCU!!!