At the age of 3, I’m not sure if I knew about college or Georgia, but I knew that my dad had returned from his business trip “down South” with a new shirt for me with S-P-E-L-M-A-N on the front, and I definitely knew how to throw my hands up to the Los Angeles sun (and smog), don a chubby-cheeked smile and pose for the camera. One hundred years after Spelman’s founding, I had heeded the call to “Let her first step be towards Spelman.”
Like most future “Hillman College” folk in the 1980s and ’90s, I adored School Daze and A Different World. I collected articles in Ebony magazine about the fabled Spelman and its “sister president,” Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. In Watts, they sold HBCU paraphernalia at Denny’s n the Hood, and in Boyz n the Hood, Brandi ends up going to Spelman. So if the hood reps Spelman and book-smart girlz n the hood can go to Spelman, I needed to be on that midnight train to Georgia.
By the spring of 1996, during the “Spel-Bound” admitted students’ weekend and in a span of two short days, I had already met the person who would be my freshwoman-year roommate (heeey, Lil Kim!), threw up “the W” countless times 2,000 miles away from home, developed a newfound appreciation for late-night wings and perfected chanting, “HHHHHH-H, Phiiiiii Beta!” in the necessary guttural tone.
Spelman is herstoric, controversial, complex, yet always self-assured. Spelman’s first students were 11 girls and women who were mostly former slaves, determined to learn to read and write. Now terms like “epistemology,” “matrix of domination,” “misogynoir,” “pedagogy of the oppressed,” “liberation theology,” “Diaspora,” “womanism,” “code-switching,” “respectability politics” and “gender identity” roll off of Spelmanites’ tongues because these concepts are foundational to our intersectional identities as black women, as scholars and as leaders at Spelman and beyond, no matter what major we chose.
Our school whose “name we praise” was founded in the basement of a Baptist church that recently has been razed and its congregation displaced for the location of the Falcons’ new stadium. “Our Whole School for Christ” is also a homeplace for Muslim, Buddhist, Yoruba, Akan, spiritual, agnostic and atheist Spelmanites. My dear alma mater pushes some students and faculty out and still calls them our own and welcomes them home. We are not surprised when Spelman is listed at the top of college rankings in U.S. News & World Report, Black Enterprise, Mother Jones or Money Guide; we wouldn’t expect anything less.
I’m my mom’s only child, but I have over 15,000 women across the world whom I call sisters, and we squeal and give each other long hugs when we meet, whether it’s for the first or the fiddy-leventh time. When I see alumnae well into their 80s and 90s showing up to Sisters Chapel dressed to the nines, I know that there IS a goddess, and she created August Georgia move-in-day heat, tap water in Upper Manley, book learnin’ in Giles Hall and whatever else commands that “black don’t crack.” I know that my future baby girl will never be caught running on the grass of the oval or walking under the arch until it’s her time to do so, to make her own “choice to change the world!”
Dr. LeConté Dill, a native of South Central Los Angeles, is currently creating a homeplace in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband, Umberto. She is a scholar, educator and a poet. Dill holds degrees from Spelman College, UCLA and UC Berkeley. Committed to practicing what she names as #CrunkPublicHealth, Dill documents in her work how black girls experience wellness. Currently, she is an assistant professor of public health at SUNY Downstate.