What a Lynching Tree Looks Like and Other Life Lessons From an HBCU

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 17:  A general view of "Hidden Figures" Q & A Discussion at Spelman Convocation at Spelman College on November 17, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 20th Century Fox)

What a Lynching Tree Looks Like and Other Life Lessons From an HBCU

I accidentally ended up at an HBCU and it changed my life.

Published November 30, 2016

I ended up at an HBCU by accident — a happy one — but an accident nonetheless. I’m pretty sure if I had stayed in Miami after high school, I’d probably be a stressed out mother who settled for a job I didn’t want, still living in my hometown. Not that there’s anything wrong with this scenario but it was never what I wanted for myself. I wanted a chance to have a career I could be passionate about and, thanks to an unlikely opportunity to attend an HBCU, that’s what I got. 

For context, I grew up in inner city schools, so my appreciation for historically Black colleges and universities did not come naturally. I grew up borderline poor. My family always had warm food on the table and clothes on our backs, but we also experienced the occasional “lights out.” Neither my mother nor my stepfather attended college. I don’t even think my stepfather graduated from high school. While I learned some Black history tidbits at home, I was never told about our true legacy as a people. That I had to learn at Florida A&M University.

It seems particularly fitting to explore what attending an HBCU meant to my development as an adult at a time when our nation's fibers are being ripped apart by race. Specifically, college campuses and classrooms and becoming hot buttons for tensions and a terrifying violence that I was shielded from by attending a school that had a primarily Black student body. From my perspective, the biggest culture shock was all the Black students I saw who came from families where parents were still married, students that did not need financial aid and students who come from a long line of Rattlers. I was completely unaware of the excellence that surrounded me. I’m ashamed to admit that I subscribed to the stereotypical narratives of absent Black fathers, poverty and a lack of education. But at FAMU, we came from all different walks of life, with many different perspectives — but we were all Black in America.

I’ll never forget my political science professor, Bill Proctor. He grew up right in Tallahassee, Florida, and never held back on his opinions regarding the racism that plagued the city. He showed us a tree where lynchings occurred. He wanted to empower us. He knew who he was and he wanted us to know who we were. He told us we should appreciate FAMU. He always put great emphasis on how special the environment was.

In class, he once commanded that we all find our husbands and wives while we were students there because he said it would probably be the only time we would be in such a favorable atmosphere of Black excellence. The class laughed, but he was definitely RIGHT. Prior to working for BET, I had to learn what he meant. In my first internship out of college, there were four black employees in total. No one talked to me. I never felt comfortable there. It was a reminder that to be Black is still to be a minority in America. It happens in professional spaces most glaringly, but my professor’s words still echo every time I see a couple from FAMU getting married and their happy photos are up and down my timeline. The connections we made there were special. Our lives there were special.

Especially in the days of the constant need to prove that Black lives matter, at FAMU, we knew we mattered. While in our own little bubble we were proud, our heads were always held high and we set the tone. But in “the real world,” we are being slaughtered at the hands of law enforcement, denied access to clean and safe water and being terrorized in our homeland — and it seems as if no one cares. In fact, with the results of the election, it would seem that most people actual prefer that result. There’s no justice.  

Going to an HBCU, it’s like you have access to a world that many don’t know exist. It seemed like a utopia, but now I know that I am charged with the task of bringing what I learned there into the world. I went to FAMU’s homecoming this year. This one just seemed much more necessary. I sat on a panel with other professionals who graduated from the school of journalism and I remembered being one of those students asking for advice about what challenges one potentially faces in the workforce. I had some answers, but I didn’t have them all. I tried to encourage them to stay persistent and build relationships. FAMU taught me that. It was necessary for me to be around my people. I wanted to be in a space where we didn’t need a reason to celebrate our Blackness, to get a break from the “real world” and enjoy being at home. There was a lot of Black pride, good food and Hennessy.

Sometimes it gets lonely in New York, especially with all my family living in Miami. Of course I have friends here, but you have a special connection with the people you struggle with. That’s why families are priceless. You’ve shared it all. That’s how I feel when I see my FAMU-ly too.


When you’re at your HBCU, you have no problem letting others know you chose THE BEST one, but when you’re in the “real word” and you come across another HBCU attendee, there’s an immediate sense of oneness because you know that they know the deal. Like the time my coworker told me she went to Howard and my eyes lit up as I responded, “I went to FAMU!”

Because we know there is no experience quite like an HBCU. We know that no matter how many pro-Black organizations you join at a PWI, it will never come close to the love and family that you will encounter at an HBCU. It’s home and there’s no place like it.

Written by Brook England

(Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 20th Century Fox)


Latest in style