From PWI to HBCU: Why I fled
College, and threat of expulsion, made my naivete about racism disappear
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Associated Content around 2005, then updated on Medium. Its permanent home will now be on Substack.
Chicago gets criticized for being segregated. And on the southside, it is. But there are a few perks to that segregation in your early years. You get to see and embrace people who look like you, walk like you, talk like you, dress like you and have the same shared history as you. It builds you as a person. It makes you comfortable in your own skin in a way that I’m assuming being the “other” in the neighborhood doesn’t.
Recommended Reading: “Biracial and (not) proud”
I graduated from a predominantly African-American elementary school. Our field trips included events like reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and hopping on a school bus to see the film Denzel Washington starred in. I did have a couple of non-black friends, daughters of my father’s co-worker. But for the most part, my friends looked like me. Then my mother decided it was time for me to go onto a more diverse high school. In my mother’s words, “The world is made up of more than black people. You need to be exposed to everybody.”
THE FIRST AND ONLY ENGLISH ESSAY I GOT AN “F” ON: "A matter of opinion versus skill," Citizens in America magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5, November/December 2004
I enjoyed the makeup of my high school, with about a third of African-American students, a third of Hispanic students (mainly Mexican), and the rest were a mix of white and foreign exchange students. But I started getting a glimpse into the prejudice views of traditional education when I tried to take an African-American Literature course. I was told that I was too close to graduating and needed to take an “English” Literature course instead. (Read: A course exclusively dedicated to white writers.) I was bored to tears in a Creative Writing course with an instructor who was obsessed with William Shakespeare and tried to add that man in every single assignment we did.
Still, though, I wasn’t really in touch with the idea of unapologetic racism until I went to Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.
Doing time at Northern Michigan University
Whenever someone asks me what college I went to, my response is the same: “I did time at NMU. I graduated from Lincoln University in Missouri.” And the reason I say “did time” is because the 18-year-old version of myself felt like it might as well have been jail. There was no African-American history. No African-American literature. No BET. No African-American newspapers.