The HBCU Connection Between Deja Harrison And Her Alma Mater Is All About Family Vibes

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The HBCU connection is one of the most unique cultural bonds amongst Black people. Over 180 years ago, the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was founded and these institutions have been the centers for Black expression, Black innovation, and Black pride ever since. 

Deja Harrison is a media and communications professional who has worked for ESPN as a Rhoden Fellow and also spent time as a director of strategic communications for the SWAC, a division one HBCU athletic conference. She is also a proud graduate of a notable Louisiana HBCU and understands how pivotal HBCUs are to the success of so many people who look like her. 

MADAMENOIRE got a chance to get Harrison’s perspective on what makes the HBCU community so special. 

MADAMENOIRE:What was it about an HBCU experience that enticed you?

Deja Harrison: Honestly, when I was going to college, I wasn’t hip to what HBCUs were or the concept of HBCUs. I chose [my alma mater] and actually [it was] the only college I applied to, but it’s because I used to watch the Bayou Classic every year and I just thought it was amazing. My uncle got me hip to Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl; that had my interest a lot. Also the bands, and just because I like football, I started looking into the University’s mass communication program because I was interested in journalism and I saw that they had a great mass communication program. So that’s ultimately how I chose my HBCU. 

How has your HBCU helped you thrive? 

You get more hands-on experience because the classrooms are smaller. If I went to somewhere else, I don’t think I would have gotten the same mass communication experience that I received. They hire professionals to do the camera operating for games and the sideline reporting. At my program, there were a lot of opportunities for students to do hands-on stuff, you know filming, sideline reporting. I think that’s the best way to get into your field is through hands-on training 

Who were some of the people that helped you along your HBCU Journey?

I would definitely say the sports information director, Brian Howard. He’s helped me as far as the writing aspect of mass communication and I would say the TV Center Director Alan Blakeney as far as recording, editing and directing. Also, my ESPN mentor from The Undefeated Kelley Evans. Kelley Evans was my mentor and she was a big help as well. 

What makes an HBCU homecoming so special?

I would definitely say it’s really a time for everybody to link back up and get together. I know at [my alma mater] we dedicate our homecoming to our alumni so we don’t have new artists. We’ll have artists like Mase or Bell, Biv, DeVoe. And I would say the school really dedicates their homecoming to our Alum. I think that’s what makes homecoming special, getting our old people to come with the new people who are already there. And I don’t think a lot of schools do that. 

What are the benefits of being a part of the HBCU Family? 

I was telling my friend this a couple of days ago because he’s just started working at my [former school]. Any time I go on Twitter, if I need answers to a question that has anything to do with school, all you have to do is literally hashtag the school. Somebody is going to help you. An alum is going to help you. They’re going to get you the answers you need. Students are also going to help. I feel like it’s very easy to reach out to an alum If you need help or if you need scholarships. I think that’s what’s so great about being at an HBCU. Everybody makes you feel like family and even the teachers and all the administrators make you feel like family. 

There’s something special about an environment that gives Black people a chance to learn and grow. For so many individuals like Harrison, the opportunity and instruction they received at their HBCU has helped give them the confidence to become successful.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)

Presented by AT&T Dream In Black

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