Image via Clark Atlanta University; illustration by Erendira Mancias/FMG

I was 8 years old when A Different World premiered, and after watching the first episode, I knew without a doubt that I would be attending an HBCU. I didn’t know much about life, or even where or what exactly an HBCU was, but I was absolutely certain that I was going to a school just like Hillman College. It wasn’t until I went on a college tour my senior year of high school that I discovered Clark Atlanta University.

For a girl who attended PWIs, or predominantly white institutions, from elementary through high school, stepping onto the campus of an HBCU was a mind-blowing experience. A coed college across the street from an all-boys college. Oh, hell yeah. I was IN. From the moment I arrived, I knew the place was magic and where I needed to be, but I had no idea how the school, the environment and the people would affect me for years to come.

It’s been almost 20 years, and I still ride hard for my alma mater. You have to understand that CAU has always been the oft-neglected middle child of the Atlanta University Center. Surrounded by Spelman and Morehouse and a short distance from Morris Brown, it is quite literally the heartbeat of the AUC. And for good reason. The street by which the schools are connected is known as “the strip” because that’s where e’rybody goes to hang out and meet up. When the weather is nice, you can find people congregating all up and down.

The energy was DOPE. Seeing so many black and brown faces was hella refreshing and I knew without a doubt it was the place for me. My freshman year there was nothing short of amazing and life changing. The people I met, the discussions we had—it was everything I thought it would be. I felt like I was living in a real-life Different World. It was on the strip there that I met and made so many lifelong connections that still run deep to this day. I met my future husband there, although I didn’t know it at the time. A place where students from around the world met and melded into Mighty Panthers and stomped the yard with ferocity.

Where else can you say, “Hey, you want to meet me on the strip and head down to Club Woody?” and have the entire student body know what you mean? Where else can you get a late-night “wing on wheat” for under $5 from a cutout window at Stegall’s, the corner store, while also grabbing batteries and a Black & Mild? Who had a locally known and respected “fruit man” who called everyone Queen or King and introduced you to muscadines and encouraged you to eat fresh fruit, all the while dropping gems on what “they” don’t want you to know?

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Clark was an experience and a half, yo. One of my fondest memories is standing at the top of James P. Brawley Drive and looking all the way down to the end and seeing nothing but shades of brown. It felt like home. It was my home. I grew up while I was at Clark. We all did.

But the best thing about CAU? The people. I met black kids from across the globe, and not only did we experience the most exciting time of our lives together (it was good to be young in the late ’90s, man), but we are still hella connected. I have friends across the country and around the world thanks to my days at CAU. The “Mighty Panthers” go hard for each other and the love runs deep. Greek, non-Greek, we’re all bonded by our experience at the cross section of Fair Street and James P. Brawley.

We took the school’s motto “Find a Way, or Make One” to heart, both then and now. Twenty years removed from my matriculation and I still utilize this motto and instill it in my kids, as I know many others have done. We are doctors, lawyers, musicians and politicos. We came from all kinds of backgrounds and ways of life, and underneath it all, we’re STILL those MIGHTY, MIGHTY Panthers.

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Amber Dorsey is a writer, personal stylist, blogger and party hostess extraordinaire. She is the sole content creator at From Carpools to Cocktails, where she shares stories about her life as a mother to a toddler and teenager and proudly shares her housewife thug life. Over the past seven years, Amber has made a name for herself within the parent and lifestyle blogging community as a trusted voice. Amber has an immense passion for working with women and helping them find their personal style and has penned numerous articles on the topic, as well as on entertaining, self-care and shopping on a budget. She is committed to her suburban gangster and dares you to cross her before she’s had her coffee.