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ROLAND S. MARTIN: No, I Didn’t Attend An HBCU, And Am Still A Proud Black Man

By Roland S. Martin

Shortly after I joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a city hall reporter in 1993, I was talking to one of our staffers at the photo desk when a young, African American reporter approached us.

I spoke her to, introduce myself as a new staffer, and she replied, “Oh, you’re the brother who didn’t know who he was.”

Stunned by her comment, I asked what would make her think of saying something like that. She said, “Well, brothers like you who go to schools like Texas A&M don’t know who they are. I know who I am because I’m a Southern graduate.”

This wasn’t the first time I heard such nonsense, so I laughed and replied, “First, you don’t know who I am and what I’ve been through. Second, I know exactly who I am. I was born to Black parents, in a Black family; raised in a Black neighborhood; grew up in a Black Catholic church; went to two Black elementary schools; a Black middle school; and a Black high school. If I didn’t know I was Black by the time I was 18, no HBCU could teach me about being Black.”

The last I remember was the deer-in-headlights look on her face as I turned on my heels and walked away.

I still laugh when telling that story because it spoke a lot about her total ignorance of my life experience, as well as her misplaced notion of what college should be about.

This story comes up because yesterday, while quickly disposing of an ignorant Morehouse student on Twitter who suggested that I wasn’t doing enough for the Black community, someone else suggested that maybe I was jealous of the school because I couldn’t get in. I replied that I never tried to get in, and I didn’t need to go to an HBCU to know I was Black.

That ticked off some HBCU students and graduates, and they began to tweet me, demanding an apology.

I made it clear that none would be forthcoming.

For years I have advocated for the survival and funding of HBCUs. It doesn’t matter that I never attended one. As a student of history, I have always understood their value to this nation, and the education of African American youth.

Two of the three honorary degrees I’ve been awarded have come from HBCUs; I’ve spoken on many campuses; and I’ve been an active participant in fundraising efforts of the UNCF and individual HBCUs.

But what I will also quickly put in check is the arrogance and misguided views that sometimes are held by HBCU graduates, as well as the view that somehow Black students aren’t able to survive at non-Black institutions of higher learning.

For instance, when I was a high school senior and decided to attend Texas A&M, Luther Booker, the legendary football coach at Jack Yates High School, pulled me aside to talk. Coach Booker said he heard I chose A&M and was upset that “the best and brightest of our Black students are going to white schools.”

“Coach, wait a minute,” I said. “Are you not the same coach who has gotten upset when major Division I-A universities aren’t recruiting your top players? Now if you want your football players to go to A&M, Texas, Nebraska and the top football schools, why is it bad for a student like me to also go to those schools?

“Coach, didn’t y’all fight for students like me to go to any school we chose? Don’t my parents pay state taxes? So why shouldn’t I have the freedom to go to a state school?”

Coach Booker sat stone faced, knowing full well he was dead wrong for what he said.

Why was I so fired up? Because this was the third time I was insulted for making a choice to attend college.

The first time was by a fellow classmate, who decided in our homeroom class a couple of weeks before to go off on every one of us who chose not to go to an HBCU. He began to blast us, saying he was proud to stay in town and go to Texas Southern University, while we went off to the “white schools.”

He was spewing such ignorance that I just told him to shut the hell up.

But the most offensive statement came from one of my teachers in May 1987.

I never took a class with this teacher, but his in-laws attended my church and I would regularly see him there.

As I was headed to class, he stopped me in the hall and said, “Are you really ready to go to Texas A&M? Don’t you think you ought to go to Prairie View A&M first, and then transfer to Texas A&M?”

Clearly offended, I replied, “Are you telling me the education I got at this school in the last four years didn’t prepare me to attend Texas A&M? That means the job you and my other teachers did wasn’t up to snuff. Man, whatever. I’m going to Texas A&M and succeeding because we need Black students to go there and succeed.”

And I walked off. Four years later, when I graduated from Texas A&M in December 1991, I made sure to drop off a graduation invitation so he would remember what he told me.

In the 20 years since my college graduation, I’ve listened to a number of HBCU students and graduates talk about how I missed out on a real, Black college experience. I’ve had folks say pledging at Texas A&M was nothing like pledging at a Black school. Folks will say that no halftime at Texas A&M could compare to a halftime at a HBCU.

Why do I blow all of that off? Because at the end of the day, it’s not about cultural awareness, ethnic pride or anything else. It’s about getting a degree.

Yes, college is about graduating. Then moving on and becoming productive adults.

I am an education advocate. I want as many Black folks who desire to get a college education to get one. I want us in four-year schools, state schools, private schools, HBCUs, PBIs (predominantly Black institutions), junior colleges, community colleges, you name it. If you want to go to BYU (Mormon), Catholic (Notre Dame or Xavier), or Brandeis (Jewish), please, go right ahead.

But we’ve got to stop this nonsense of making Black kids feel less than if they didn’t attend an HBCU.

I praise Howard, Spelman, TSU, Prairie View A&M and the other HBCUs. But I am proud as hell of my fours years at Texas A&M. I wear my Aggie maroon colors and my Aggie ring with pride.

Every Black student reading this that attends a non-HBCU, be proud of your choice. Don’t let anyone make you think that you’re less Black or deprived because of your college choice. English is English. Math is math. Business is business. And when we all are finished with our college days, we can all say, “I’m a college graduate.”

That is the point, right?

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  • Harvey Cummings

    Good Post Frat

  • Kiera

    I totally agree with you! My friend asked me what are the best HBCU schools because he wants he children to get that African American History knowledge “she so rightfully deserved”… Ummm Take her to a museum… let her read books on her own.. I understand the history of HBCU’s but I would never feel someone is less black because they haven’t been to a HBCU. Honestly, I liked attending a college that was not HBCU. Because when you go out in the workforce–everyone you work with is NOT BLACK or NOT OUT TO GET YOU…

    I love this article! Great write up

  • Proud black mother

    Good job Roland.  I work for an Ivy League university.  As such, my son has been accepted and is attending that Ivy League school tuition free.  I would be a fool to tell him that he has to go into debt to attend an HBCU just because he’s black.

  • Charli Jones

    Roland this deeply touched me being the parent of an AA male graduate of Texas A&M. I am proud of you as a native Texan. I salute your sucess and pray God will continue to grant you favor. It is indeed a sad thing when we as a people supposedly comming this far can see no farther then a near sighted person. There are plenty of AA males who would lavish a HBCU…. so perhaps recruiting is needed. However you made a bright decision evidently and for that I high five you. (HANDS UP) !!

  • Mo

    I completely agree with your article. I find it repulsive, intellectually backward and reactionary that we keep putting up road blocks to our own unity via these absurd litmus test of negritude. If it’s not speech, it’s dress. If not hair, it’s neighborhood. When will we resist this urge to be so divisive and settle down to realize the fact that we aren’t MONOLITHIC. We are part of the human family and as such share in it’s divine diversity as expressed in our choices. We are best served by being as accepting of one another as possible.

  • guest

    And the people say: Amen

  • Marcus

    Great article Roland. I attended Texas Tech, and got the same responses, because others went to HBCU’s. They partied so hard none graduated, and most have crappy jobs.

    • Brenda K.

      This isn’t always true and it can go the other way. Its a personal choice to party at both HBCU’s and PWI’s and a personal choice to go to class at any institution. Your school does not always determine what job you get post-graduation.  

  • Brenda K.

    Everyone has a different collegiate experience regardless of the type of institute they attend. I am a proud graduate of an HBCU, Winston-Salem State University. My only issue with either side of the fence is critizicing or demeaning another persons decision. I simply do not like when people believe that because I chose to attend an HBCU, I did not receive a good education. I think that we as black people just need to discontinue critizicing our fellow brothers and sisters personal choices and encourage others to look at all of the options that are available to them and make a holistic decision (based on academic, financial, and social factors) and not discourage them, when the most important thing is that they are choosing to continue their education.

  • Jacksonmarilyn1

    Roland Martin, Please!! I do not believe you have a clue about being a strong Black anything. The first mistake your parents made was to send you to a Catholic church. Even if the teachers are nuns were Black. The Catholic doctrine is racist with the false ideas that Jesus was white and all the characters in the Bible were white. You was already brainwashed from jump street. Then your parents made sure you was mentally dead of the knowledge of self is when they sent you to a white university.I do not blame you for this atrocity, I blame your parents. They are responsible for creating a monster with a degree that thinks he is qualified to comment on Black issues in the Black community. If Tom Joyner knew all this, they should have kept the other confused brother- Tavis Smiley.
    Marilyn Jackson

    • A.Ross

      You sound ridiculously ignorant! You are one of the types of people he is discussing in his article. You, or anyone else, does not have the ability to quantify the amount of “blackness” in a person. Saying someone is “mentally dead” because they went to a “white university” is beyond rude. I attend a top 10 school and occasionally encounter people like you that make egregious assumptions about a person’s background. It’s backwards thoughts like these that continue to divide our people. Unity is the key to further advancing blacks all over the world. Not too long ago, people like you and I were not even allowed to read. Look how far we have come and the fruition of our ancestors hard work. Education is the only way to insure their past labor does not go to waste– regardless of what historical make-up the school has.

    • Plollar12

      If this is the true state of Black America, we have already lost. You sound like the same racist you demonize. Not all Black people think alike. We have different views base on different experiences and upbringings. This doesn’t mean that we cant have unity in our common struggles. PLEASE STOP THE FOOLISHNESS.  

  • SMP

    This is a great piece and necessary to the coversation about blacks in higher education. As an alum of Texas Southern University and The University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em!) I believe that both experiences were valuable in their own right. There were advantages and disadvantages to both, but that could be applied to any set of insitutions. On the opposite side of your experience when I made the decision to attend undergrad at TSU a few of my high school teachers and administrators made similar comments,  questioning my decision to attend an HBCU versus attending the Texas flagship university. I believe the narrative should be adjusted on both ends–there are those that believe that an HBCU education is not sufficient and place more value on those who matriculate at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). To your point we need more black youth to be able to profess that “I am a college graduate”  and that’s where our value and focus should be set–creating opportunities and access to higher education and helping our black youth chose an institution in which they can afford and finish. As an HBCU alum, I will continue to advocate for the schools and the experience—without degrading those who did not attend, but I ask the for same love and respect in return from those who attended PWIs.

  • Charlatb

    Love you Roland. However, this goes both ways. All HBCU students and graduates – “Your degree and experience is just as good or better than others.” I am an HBCU grad and constantly have to hear how I missed out or how my college experience is not as good as others. Everyone should do what works for them and do not hate on others for their choices period.

  • Whossays

    I agree with you regarding the fact that every black student should be able to go to any school and be proud of it.  I have never looked down upon any black person that decided to attend a PWI rather than a HBCU.  It just sounds like you had a bad experience with people judging you on choosing the former.  I attended an HBCU and trust me, my former classmates and I aren’t going around talking trash about our friends who did not make the same choice as us.  We are proud of our decision but also proud of any black person who decides to go to school at all.  You should not have made this a war; you have done nothing but start a conversation that is pitting black people against one another.  You did not have to take the comment about you “being unable to get into Morehouse” this far.  You just sound bitter to be honest.  If anything, people look at graduates from PWIs with more respect whether they be black or white.  You may also want to check your grammar in your articles before you start going on rants. :)  

  • J. Martin

    The divisions created amongst African Americans centuries ago seem to strengthen over time with African Americans being the driving force. Many of the ideologies from which the ignorance spew are acquired through parental influence. While Roland’s overall message has validity, the fact that it is filled with emotion does not allow for the divisions amongst us to view it objectively. There can be no winner in this debate, we as a community lose.

  • http://newmamaswagger.com Denise @HowMamaGotHerSwagBack

    I got my undergrad degree at a non-HBCU (VCU) and my Master’s at Howard. I am a proud Ram AND a proud Bison. And at no point will I let anyone discount my “self” education at VCU. Not only did they have the academic facility to teach it to me, but more importantly I had the personal drive to acquire the info myself. You need that whether or not you go to an HBCU.

    And to all my HBCU graduates I issue a challenge: If we’re going to be so quick to criticize other black folks for not attending HBCUs then let’s be equally quick to contribute to the schools post-graduation. Why, if we’re so passionate about our HBCUs, do their endowments chronically look sick compared to those of predominantly white schools? How can one HBCU (Morris Brown) be in a major motion picture one year and then be in danger of closing the next? If we love the schools so much, show it in a more productive way!

  • Cody Williams

    WTF? Who has these types of conversations? This is completely petty nonsense.

    • Babyof_5

      I agree Cody.  I am a HBCU grad and I will never knock another for attending a predominately white university.  Go where you want. Some think that attending a HBCU will not get you the corner office, I beg to differ.  GSU Tigers

  • http://twitter.com/ButtaphlyTweet Adrienne Phillips

    I completely agree with you. At one point I hated to hear the question, “Where did you go to college?” because I knew once I said “Mississippi State”, the next question would be, “Why didn’t you go to a black school?” Now I just roll my eyes whenever I hear this ignorance. You are correct, college is about getting an education, not about pledging and experiencing the real black college experience. I loved my school and still do, and I know MANY other black State alums who still love the Maroon and White. Sometimes, I think we are so focused on our “blackness” that we forget to focus on something more. Education, whether it is gained by a black person or white person is essential and extremely important if you want to make it in this world. And to end this I say Go State! GO STATE! LOL

  • Antwayne650

    From tyler perry to president obama to hbcu’s black folks can never support our own successes. Either the accomplishments are not black enough or they are too black. We went a white school, had too many white friends, or lived in a white neighborhood. It has to be all black or nothing at all. Can we celebrate our accomplishments without being so judgemental. I say if it is positive and the resul honest, hard work then what purpose of complaining.

  • B Square

    Oh please! He said you couldn’t get into Morehouse because you were arguing with a Morehouse student. DUH! It had nothing to do with you proving your blackness. Not to mention, you made this same comment a few weeks ago when another tweeter was asking you about FOOTBALL. That tweeter did not mention blackness either. It seems to me that YOU have an issue with your own blackness and anytime you perceive it as being threatened you “go off”. Definitely not a good look. You were wrong but as usual you will never admit it.

    Kiera you did not attend an HBCU. And it’s obvious by the absurd comment you made that everyone in the workforce is not black nor out to get you. Logic? Hilarious comment.

    I have NEVER heard an HBCU grad say that someone is less than black because they didn’t go to an H

    • DG

      I have. And it’s annoying. Just as I’m sure that HBCU grads have been looked down upon because they attended one. I thought the goal in the end was a COLLEGE degree. Silly me. 

  • Hasbeen7

    Roland this article is petty, and if the grammer is a reflection of A&M, you can keep your hand signals.

    • Mimeadows

      And clearly you need a dictionary because the word is spelled “grammar.”

  • Corey Matthews

    Thank you for sharing Roland. Though I agree that a degree is a degree,I contend that the hidden curriculum of attending an institution of higher education or any institution for that matter, is about the socialization that happens to the students. The students’ values, moral compass, sense of self, that comes from growing up as a young adult in a collegiate environment is the big picture of folks’ thoughts about this. I attended UCLA and I chaired its Afrikan Student Union, pledged an African American fraternity, and did just about everything Black and I think that the sense of isolation at such a  large, PWI made me cling on to an understanding of self that was mainly shared in our student organization culture. I think that the connection to self for students of HBCUs is less of a reach and creates a different mirror to see oneself. Both environments are enriching but produce different types of students — HBCU graduates tend to be more developed professionally but less culturally conscious, ironically. While students of PWIs tend to be more community-minded. At least from my experiences.

  • Jeremy D House

    After reading this im thinking what’s the point? For an esteemed journalist he doesn’t add anything signficant to the discourse. All this rambling about Im smart enough to attend a white school is just nonsense and is something that the majority of black students have been doing for let’s say 30 years. This article is nothing more than a hit job because

    He is offended that a morehouse student would challenge him. And being the immature person that he is, he devotes an entire article stating that he was smart enough to attend a white school.

    Not to mention that the majortiy of hbcu grads are far more chastized for attending black schools than the reverse. Excluding the the top 4 hbcu’s, most black students who attended PWIs look down upon their black counterparts who attend hbcus

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Riley/100000075014998 David Riley

       it’s only a “hit job”, IF it applies to you.

    • RJames

       You really did not read what he said.  He stated that a person who graduated from a HBCU concluded that because he did not graduate from one that he himself did not know where he came from.  He stated that just because you go to a HBCU does not make anyone more “understanding” or more in tuned with blackness.  He never said him going to a nonHBCU made him better.  How did you not understand that?

  • Donnie McDaniel

    I can’t help but think Roland has some sort of personal vendetta against people who chose to attend a HBCU. The over confidence and boasting of his graduation at a white college as a black person is more annoying than uplifting. It’s as if he gets off by getting on other black people who merely made a suggestion on where to go to school. Just because someone gives you a suggestion of where to go to school or makes a light hearted joke (which I believe the repoter was trying to establish) only says one thing when Roland reaction is just uncalled for. The fact you sent out a graduation invite to a previous teacher who suggested you go to a HBCU speaks volumes right there. Maybe those people wanted you to go to a HBCU because of the black people you could have influenced their, or maybe because of the lifetime of networks you could have obtained. It’s common knownledge to know that HBCU’s have a closer community connection than white univeristies when it comes to the black students.
    For someone to claim they are very educated you fail to see obvious reasons so many people suggested attending a HBCU. I suppose all your giving back that you do is suppose to compesate your guilt? Idk. Then again you claim that college is only for getting a degree, again where you are wrong. Many people go off to college with the plan of obtaining a degree but not all and it shouldn’t be the only reason people attend college. Some chose to make new friends, network, employment, market, ect.
    If he didn’t have that rich white American snobby attitude perhaps I could read and take this article into account without a bias view. But clearly this guy wants his tea cup on a saucer, then again he was losing me on “black catholic church”. Ive been to a Catholic church and believe you me, it is a BIG difference between that and a Baptist church. White or black.
    This guy reminds me of the white man Mr Dalton in Richard Wright book “Native Son”. He gives and gives and gives to the black community, but he isn’t “connected with the people which makes all the giving….well pointless. But hey I’m sure people will take your money with a big *cough* smile to ease your ego.

    • Deanna Williams

      I attended an HBCU undergrad and I didn’t take what he was saying like that at all. I did attend a predominantly white school for my graduate degree and did encounter some of the same things from Black people. One guy even told me to stay black. Whatever that meant. I responded, “I’ll do my best.” I don’t know why HBCU students seem to think attending those schools makes them Blacker then studens who don’t.

  • http://www.TheBrokeBrothersRevolution.com J. Shawn Durham

    This is so true, Roland. I wrote this piece on the matter: With it CIAA weekend, I thought I would add this commentary because SOME black college alums (not all) are major highfalutin to non-HBCU alums. Stop that. ONE LOVE!
    http://www.thebrokebrothersrevolution.com/#!Im-Black-Too-I-Just-Didnt-Attend-An-HBCU/c5fn/24BF29FB-B47A-4D0B-BDCE-9746ECAB5EE9

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