07/28/2011 12:07 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2011

HBCUs Shouldn't Be a Last Resort

Just about five years ago, I would not have imagined that I'd be in school at an HBCU. Like so many other young black males, dreams of hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in front of a sold out crowd, occupied my daydreams from an early age, but soon after coming to terms with the reality of that profession, and watching my life frittered away at long shot, my athletic aspirations slowly dissolved. Around the same time this was happening, the (near-deafening) sounds of Mad Money invaded the one-room apartment I was currently residing in.

Jumping ahead a few months, just before changing my major to finance, I found myself displaced, amongst throngs of people who looked like me; to a degree that I had not experienced before, being from the suburbs. My dad always taught me to emanate confidence in every setting, but for the first time in my life, I was routinely uncomfortable, which did nothing but magnify my social awkwardness, and bring my enthusiasm for this college life to a grinding halt. Day after day, I wandered the campus aimlessly, wondering what was to come out of this situation I was dropped into.

Eventually, I discovered one of the perks of going to an HBCU. There are people there that want to help you, that is, if you want to be helped. Putting aside the fact that I stumbled across a few family members working at the school (this is my hometown, after all), it seemed that, in an instant, I had access to opportunities that easily could've evaded me otherwise. With the Career Services office and a few choice mentors constantly nudging me in the right direction, I was being put into positions that challenged me and played a huge role in popping my social "bubble."

One instance in particular I remember most vividly was an introduction speech for a panel discussion I agreed to give. I recall this a little better than anything else I did during the last semester because it was so unsettling, mainly for being so far outside of my comfort zone. A few days later, I was standing in front of about 50 or so students and faculty ready to do some public speaking, and the moment before I opened my mouth, I found the advice I received from a friend of mine to be true: "If you step back and put it in perspective, its only going to last a couple of minutes, and you're done." Simple words, but as they flashed in my head, you would not believe how much they eased my nerves. From that experience alone, I've learned to always put things in their place, and never hype things up to be bigger than they really are.

The lessons learned over the past few years since I've been in college will stick with me throughout my working life and at 23 years old, like most of my nostalgic generation, I tend to reflect on my position in the earliest stages of my career and how different it would be without the tools I've gathered from a historically black university, and even though I'm in a much different situation than I originally imagined, it's also a lot better than I ever would have imagined.

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