This weekend, I returned to my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for homecoming. This was an extra special occasion because this year marks the inaugural football season at the University. With much-anticipated excitement, alums from all of the country returned back to campus to witness and to participate in homecoming festivities unlike any other prior to 2013. Historically, homecoming was celebrated during basketball season since the school did not have a football program. With a beautiful new stadium in place and a decent team lined-up, football has finally arrived at UNC Charlotte. Yet, it may seem weird for some, especially HBCU alumni, that I even attended homecoming. They are probably wondering, "What do white schools know about celebrating homecoming?"
Founded in 1946 as the Charlotte Center, my alma mater is now the fourth largest of the 17 institutions within the University of North Carolina system. Enrollment at UNC Charlotte currently exceeds 26,000 students. The University offers 20 doctoral programs, 66 master's degree programs and 90 bachelor's degrees. I graduated in 1997 with a degree in Psychology and a minor in African American Studies. I actually decided to attend UNC Charlotte sight unseen. Yep, freshman orientation was the first time that I stepped foot on the beautiful green campus. I fell in love with it on the first day. Intrigued by the friendly students, huge buildings and great resources, UNC Charlotte become my home away from home. It was there that I discovered my true passion ... history. Known to students in the 1990s as the African and African American Studies (AAAS) program, I soaked in everything that was offered. Phenomenal black professors like Dr. Sandra Govan in the English Department, Dr. Vickie Crawford and Dr. Greg Davis both in the AAAS program opened my eyes to a new level of scholarship, challenged me to expand my thinking and inspired me to explore a career as a historian.
One of the very few of its time, the Black Studies program, its initial name, at UNCC was established in 1969 as a result of African American students demanding such a program. As a freshmen, we were taught about the "10 Demands" set forth by the Black Student Union to the administration in February of 1969. The demands included the hiring of more black faculty, a raise for non-academic employees, changes in the admissions standards for black students, and that racist faculty members be immediately dismissed. Hearing about this as a 17-year old empowered me and gave me the confidence to be a leader on campus.
As a student, I was extremely active in extra-curricular activities. During my freshmen year alone, I served on the executive board of the Black Student Union, was president of my floor in the residence hall, a member of the elite Emerging Leaders program and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. UNC Charlotte poured life into me. My light began to shine brighter and brighter each year that I spent on the campus. The theology of servant leadership became engrained in my every day thinking and being.
When I reminisce about my four years out on Highway 49, I immediately smile. Surrounding the campus at that time was only a Harris Teeter, a Hardees, Hot Wok (a chinese joint) and a BP gas station. Yet, we had lots of fun! Thursday night parties in the Rathskeller, Friday night parties in the Lucas Room and a spades game every night until the crack of dawn. Of course we indulged in some "spirits" but no one I knew was deep into drugs or other destructive behaviors. Even now, some of my closest friends are among those who I met at UNCC. The memories we share are everlasting.
Being on campus and seeing everyone this past weekend stirred a certain emotion inside my soul. I looked at my fellow 49ers -- we were all grown up with good jobs, husbands, wives and children. I gazed upon the campus -- new buildings have sprouted up everywhere and old ones, like Smurf Village, are a thing of the past. The fact that we have a football team is unbelievable and the fact that black alumni from all eras, from all across the country returned back to Charlotte for homecoming was simply amazing.
To my HBCU friends, we do know how to celebrate homecoming at majority institutions. We cherish our undergraduate experience as much as you do. Believe it or not, my "blackness" was amplified at UNC Charlotte. I knew I had no choice but to stand tall and to be a voice for our culture and race on campus. Most African American students at UNCC were self-assured about who they were and openly embraced their heritage though surrounded by a majority of white, Asian and other diverse faces. It was important and such a prolific statement that we were present this weekend to celebrate and participate in the festivities.
My academic pursuits after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has included attending historically black, Morgan State University for my advanced degrees. I totally love Morgan. It truly is a nurturing environment where I have grown and developed into a scholar. My best classroom experiences ever have occurred while pursuing my master's and doctoral degrees. (Homecoming is fun too!) Yet, because of decades of systematic discrimination and blatant racism, Morgan State has been significantly underfunded. Therefore, resources are scarce, opportunities are minimal and moral can sometimes be low.
I wonder where Morgan would be if it possessed the same amount of funding as UNC Charlotte.
I've said all this to say, I am black and I am proud that I attended a predominately white college. I would not go back and change it even if I could. Life as I know it now is because of the strong foundation I received at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I'm proud to be a 49er!