When I was in high school, the laws in my small, white Virginian hometown were simple:
- Jesus is the reason for every season: Christmas, football, deer and killa.
- Platinum FUBU is the Gucci of country-Negro couture.
- Black politics are just like good white folks like ’em: respectable, self-deprecating and don’t hold white people accountable for anything.
It was that constant, incessant policing to adhere to the belief that whiteness equaled intellectual superiority that made me say, “Fuck this, I’m going to Hampton University,” the Chuck E. Cheese’s of HBCUs, where a black kid can be a goddamn black kid.
Was Hampton perfect?
Every day there was some bullshit …
- A dean of students enforced a “no do-rag” policy, yet whenever you saw his big Pastor Greenleaf-looking ass at the top of the damn morning, his forehead ALWAYS had a fresh do-rag line. This nigga here …
- The pressed of the pressed to be Greek expressed interest in fraternities and sororities that we—I mean they—knew damn well had been suspended from campus since Puff Daddy pumped the Hummer for the summer.
- A campus security officer named “Bullet” who was built more like a cannonball and couldn’t stop somebody’s ass from breaking wind, much less stop somebody’s ass from breaking into your damn apartment.
But you know what I didn’t have to deal with?
Feeling inadequate daily.
The expectation of being the spokesperson for every black person in the damn world when the classroom discussed involved race.
I mean … issa fair trade-off.
As Hamptonians, we formed a bond, mostly around bottles of cheap liquor, selling Harbors parking passes for the cheap and Que Cab tickets, but also around the commonality that we were all young black men and women focused on learning, building lasting relationships and creating better lives for our families. And for many of us, that journey was not centered on or stifled by the necessity of competing with white people for the very first time in our lives.
Hampton’s motto is “The standard of excellence, an education for life.” Think about how revolutionary that shit is. The notion that in America we, young black people, set the standard for what equals greatness. Not something we hear every day, huh? Imagine a world where we aren’t constantly told you have to be twice as good just to be considered as good as a white person. A world where you can read just because you like to read. A world that operates as a safe space to exist in your full and complete blackness without fear of judgment. That’s Hampton. That’s home.
So thank you, Hampton, for instilling the radical concept that black confidence matters. Thank you for defying stereotypes daily. Thank you for daring to celebrate us when the rest of society demeans, belittles and incarcerates people who look like us. Thank you for encouraging us to have the audacity to say, “Yes, I AM worthy” when the world says we aren’t. Thank you, little black school, for teaching young black men and women to love themselves without society’s permission.
You the real HU. No shots fired.
Paul Bromley is a 2005 graduate of Hampton University, a 2009 graduate of Hofstra University School of Law and a forever prisoner of his student loan debt. When Bromley isn’t practicing law, running after his precocious 2-year-old son or rubbing his wife’s feet, he likes to write. You can find Bromleyl’s work on HuffPost as well as Medium. You can also follow him on Instagram and Twitter.