Bowie State University; illustration by Erendira Mancias/FMG

I ended up at the great Bowie State University by accident. I was headed to Morgan State University on a full scholarship but received a letter over that summer informing me that, because of budgeting issues, they would not be able to honor my scholarship.

As you can imagine, those were fighting words! But I came to learn that this was no accident; I wasn’t meant to be there. I applied to Bowie State University with just a couple of weeks remaining before the beginning of the fall semester of 1997, and they offered me a full scholarship as well.

The size and culture of BSU were a perfect fit for someone who had attended a small boarding school in the predominantly white town of Hershey, Pa. There was no housing left in the freshman dorms, so they put me in an upperclassman dorm called Tubman. They made a way for me. The small class sizes made it easy to develop relationships with professors and for them to truly get to know our abilities. After a week in my freshman English class, I was moved into the honors program. I was grateful.

Socially, acclimating to life farther south was a bit of a culture shock, since I hailed from New York City. There was a different style of dress and accents. It took me years to figure out who Murrian Burry (Marion Barry) was. Whether it was parties in the Wiseman Center, hanging out on fraternity and sorority plots, or just gathering on the yard, we knew how to have a good time. Participating in time-honored HBCU traditions like probates and step shows just further cemented the feeling for me that I was at home.

I look forward to homecoming, where we’ll reminisce over the campus water fight of ’98, snowball fights in the winter, midnight madness and our favorite security guard, Officer Brown. And undoubtedly, someone will be sure to remind me of the time I was shot in the butt with a pellet gun.

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While I can laugh about it now, this is my legacy. Some guys I knew on campus thought it would be fun to scare people by shooting at targets close by; however, I ended up in the line of fire. It was a long night with lots of pokes and prods and being wheeled around the hospital with my goods on display, topped off with a tetanus shot for gunshot wounds. But once again, the BSU family rallied around me. I never had to say a word or ask for a thing.

I share this story so that it is understood that while my HCBU is not perfect, it does the best it can for its students. We are prepared not just academically but mentally and emotionally after we matriculate. I’ve made lifelong connections that I value more than anything I could ever buy. Attending an HBCU feels like being a part of a secret society; it feels special. There’s no better feeling than hearing someone shout out “B S UUUUU” and participating in the response of “You knooooow!”


Kelly Davidson is a mother, native New Yorker, HBCU lover and Captain Save-a-Quote. Defeating the enemy that is bills by helping people share their gifts with the world.