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My HBCU Story- Freedom to Think

By: TxCAN   |   February 2023

Guest author Kenya Wilson, Director of College and Career Readiness at Educate Texas, reflects on her post-secondary journey and the impact of HBCUs in her personal and professional life.

Thirty-one years ago (oh my!) I bucked a system to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU); to this day, I believe it was the best decision of my life. Rewind...  

1981- I was the only Black girl in first grade. Black culture rested on my shoulders as I spent a childhood explaining, defending, and protecting secrets of Black Oak Cliff and West Dallas communities.  

1989- College conversations were in full swing, and I understood my assignment. Assignments included staying accountable to the scholarship program, shattering Black stereotypes, and staying the course of education excellence and attend Princeton or Sarah Lawrence. Then a thing happened. I woke up one day and thought, “NOPE! I’m tired.” I hadn’t identified exactly what exhausted me. I hadn’t yet internalized metacognition or self- actualization.   

I applied to Florida A&M University, on the highest of seven hills in the capital city of Tallahassee, Florida. I arrived on FAMU’s campus with a stellar K-12 education and an unsure spirit. I arrived with a desperate need and my HBCU didn’t disappoint. I was embraced by all aspects of culture. The university values community bonding, solidarity, and perseverance, by any means necessary.  When socializing, I spoke as I spoke to my family. I didn’t have to code-switch or be my representative self. My gross anatomy teacher was a respected elderly man who couldn’t pronounce “clavicle” or “quadriceps” to save his life, but his student success rate was unparalleled. Myself and my colleagues learned to value his knowledge and wisdom above split verbs and mispronunciation.  When I looked across ‘the yard’, I saw wall paintings of kings and queens of excellence and attended campus lectures with Maya Angelou and Angela Davis. At campus events, we connected and shared rituals of the African diaspora, from Trinidad’s Carnival to Senegal’s Abene festival, Mobile’s Mardi Gras, and Texas’ Juneteenth celebrations.   

At 18 years old, I prioritized belonging. I wasn’t alone in thinking the greatest value of HBCUs is cultural resonance, but I received so much more from my HBCU. I experienced an outstanding Physical Therapy education in a PT class of about 40% Black and 60% other ethnicities. FAMU’s School of Allied Health was far more diverse than comparable programs at PWIs. In 1992, I was part of a FAMU freshman class with more National Merit Scholars than Harvard. I attended the college that graduated Pam Oliver, Will Packer, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Jamie Valentine Miller and more Black educators than any institution in the country, all in the 1990s! Florida A&M University is academic excellence.   

FAMU was both the backdrop and primary source of my wonder years. I enjoyed learning among students with similar experiences. I enjoyed the freedom to think and apply learning as my authentic self. When I graduated, I was full of energy and free of token blackness and imposter syndrome. I learned to just BE.   

I am a proud, proud graduate of Florida A&M University, on the highest of seven hills in the capital city of Tallahassee, FL. I love my HBCU, and I encourage students and families to seek an HBCU experience.   

As I write about my HBCU experience, I didn’t know where to include the Rattler Chant. But I cannot speak FAMU greatness without sharing the chant that inspires FAMU Rattler’s across the world. So, I am sharing this with you.  

When the dark clouds gather on the horizon,  
When thunder and lightning pierce the skies,  
When fate is but a glare in the eye of a fallen Rattler,  
and hope….a lost friend,  
When the sinew of the chest grows weary from those hard charging linebackers,  
And the muscles in the legs grow tired from those hard charging running backs,  
You must always remember….the Rattlers will  


Kenya Wilson is the Director for Educate Texas' College and Career Readiness. Kenya provides technical support to designated STEM schools, Early College High Schools, and Pathways in Technology and Industry Cluster/Innovative Academies schools across Texas.