When I was a little girl, my grandmother would always tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to. You have to understand that my grandmother was an extremely strong-willed woman and this saying epitomized her approach to life. People respected her because she spoke her mind with certainty and boldness. I believed her when she spoke these words to me. Even still, it wasn’t until I reached college that my belief in her oft-repeated statement became real to me in a way that it never had before.
Equipped with the “secret strength” of my grandmother’s powerful words, I enrolled in Fisk University in the fall of 2002. My matriculation into Fisk University was somewhat haphazard. I registered for school merely weeks before the semester began. Prior to that, I was unsure of what college I would attend, and had actually contemplated going to community college until I could come up with enough money to attend a “big-name” four-year university. My mother, who struggled financially as a social worker, simply did not have the money to fund my education, and the thought of committing myself to pay back thousands of dollars of loans frightened me.
As my senior year in high school came to an end, I began to worry about my future. I shared my frustrations with a friend, who put me in touch with a “scholarship guru,” who was familiar with Fisk University. Shortly thereafter, the impossible happened. Everything I needed to attend college “magically” materialized. I had no money, no plan, and no hope, then all of a sudden, I had money to cover my cost of attendance, a roommate, a vehicle for the drive from Chicago to Nashville, luggage, dorm essentials, and a restored sense of hope. Miraculously, I had everything I needed to begin my journey as a freshman at Fisk University.
My experience at Fisk University showed me that HBCU’s are as relevant today as they ever were because they serve a special function that seeks to equalize the playing field by providing a supportive environment for students of color.
HBCUs are well aware of the biases their students may face in the job market. Because of this HBCUs typically place a special emphasis on helping students develop skills to help them compete in the broader job market. For example, my writing professor at Fisk held each student to a standard of excellence. Because of him, I learned to strive for excellence not only in my writing, but in other areas of my life as well. This is not uncommon, as nothing less is expected from a Fiskite.
In fact, Fisk has a well-documented track record for producing many of the nation’s most successful graduates. For example, as of 2006, no other U.S. institution of higher learning could boast awarding more master’s degrees in physics to African American students than Fisk University, which is also one of the top ten U.S. institutions awarding masters degrees in physics to students of any ethnic background. Moreover, over 17 percent of Fisk students are selected for internships, in comparison with the national average of just 9 percent.
Fisk is not alone in its outpouring of successful men and women. Howard University, for example, boasts a network of more than 50,000 alumni and has produced more than 10 percent of the nation’s African American lawyers, engineers, politicians, business leaders, artists, and other professionals.
I honestly believe the success of Fisk, Howard, and other HBCUs is attributable to their focus on building confidence in their students, what I like to call the “confidence model”. They understand that the measure of a student’s success is contingent upon how the student feels about him/herself. By using the confidence model, HBCUs reverse the effects that negative portrayals of young African Americans undoubtedly have by reaffirming the worth and value of the individual and helping them visualize and reach their true potential.
Although I ultimately did not graduate from Fisk University, I benefited greatly from its familial, strive-for-excellence, confidence-building environment during my time there. Through chance and opportunity, I stumbled into a legacy that has produced world-changers, of which I am proud to be a part. Most importantly, my experience at Fisk University helped me realize what my grandmother knew all along. I can do whatever I put my mind to. And, I intend to do just that!
Live H.O.P.E. Give H.O.P.E.
About Danielle Blanks
Danielle Blanks is a third year law student at Northern Illinois University College of Law where she is an Opportunity Scholar. Upon graduating, Danielle hopes to pursue her dream of advancing civil rights.