And Another Thing… with Anitra Brown
I was in my freshman orientation class at Dillard University when my professor said something I will never forget.
“You can’t make ‘C’s” at Dillard. Your Dillard ‘As’ are going to be viewed as if you earned ‘Cs’ at Tulane or Loyola, so you can’t make ‘Cs’ at Dillard.
He said what?
Hold on, the level of instruction and the caliber of course work at Dillard challenged me just as deeply as anything going on along St. Charles Avenue. I had friends at Tulane, Loyola, and LSU; and they were not working any harder than I. Besides, I didn’t go to Dillard because I couldn’t make it at Tulane. I went to Dillard because I could make the grade anywhere. So why not do at an HBCU? The only thing that came easy at Dillard was the nurturing and encouraging environment. For everything else, you had to bust your hump. To be sure, every mark I made was hard earned. And there were no Cs among them; because as much as I abhorred what the professor said to us, I understood why he said it. He said it because others’ slanted views had become our reality.
Perception is like that. It makes a man so accomplished that he rises to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice and simultaneously so utterly dense and frighteningly foolish that he actually suggests it does not “benefit” Black students to go to schools like the University of Texas “where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower track school where they do well.” It even makes the President of the United States say some really poorly-informed things as it relates to HBCUs.
Eight semesters after entering, I graduated from Dillard and, just a few months later, was enrolled in the well-respected and demanding graduate program at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
As I looked around at those that entered the master’s program with me, I was surrounded by students, both Black and White, that had earned their undergraduate degrees from some of the “top” universities in the nation—I am talking Ivy League and big research institutions—Princeton, Texas A&M, the University of Pennsylvania. This Dillard grad didn’t miss a beat—whether it was a theory class, a research course or a practicum experience, I performed at peak level—keeping pace, if not outpacing, those around me. It was my master’s project that my committee chair kept on hand to show future students “how it was supposed to be done”. Within weeks of graduation, this Dillard grad had multiple job offers to consider. And it was this Dillard grad who was invited back to Mizzou one year later to serve as the print director of the J-School’s summer journalism workshop for minority high school students. While I had served as an instructor at the workshop the summer right after graduation, the position of print director had been filled by a White person.
I made sure to make it a Dillard thing, inviting my former DU mass communication instructor, fellow Dillard alumna, and at that time, Washington Post reporter Lisa Frazier to join the workshop that summer as one of the instructors. I felt it was extremely important for high school students of color that aspired to become journalists to not only see journalists of color, but to see Black journalists that started their journeys at HBCUs because the reality was and is that not every young Black person—or White one for that matter—that wants to be a journalist or a doctor or a lawyer or the president of the United States is going to get accepted to or can afford Harvard or Yale or even Mizzou. And the truth is they don’t have to because HBCUs are producing the finest in all fields.
I have had varied and rewarding experiences in my chosen field. Still, I remember being asked by one of my Mizzou professors, who happened to be Black like me, what I planned to do once I graduated. I remember saying then—almost 20 years ago—that I wanted to work in the Black press. I also remember being dissuaded by this Black professor because “You’re too good!”
Wait! She said what? I am too good to work in the Black press? You must be outside your mind. Oh, wait…that is Another Thing…for another column.
At any rate, yes, I began my career in mainstream media, where I did my job well. But I am grateful for the courage to eventually follow my desires. You see the reason I always wanted to work in the Black press is the same reason I wanted to attend an HBCU—not because I wasn’t good enough to make it in the larger space—but precisely because I was. And I just believe that we need good Black journalists everywhere—that includes our media outlets that speak to, for and about our community in ways that are absent elsewhere. The same applies to our colleges and universities.
When I am asked about my Dillard experience, I always say that it prepared me for my life in a way a mainstream institution could never have. Of course, I have no doubt that I would have done just fine at Tulane or Loyola or LSU. I don’t think I would have the self-assuredness and self-awareness that I possess were it not for the inimitable experience of attending a historically Black institution—a place where everything about you is celebrated, a place where you are the rule and not the exception, a place where your success is overtly expected, not secretly doubted.