The HBCU connection is one of the most unique cultural bonds amongst Black people. Over 180 years ago the first Historically Black College was founded and these institutions have been the centers for Black expression, Black innovation and Black pride ever since.
Tucker Toole is a media professional who works as a race and culture reporter for a national platform. The upcoming media star is a graduate of a Black male HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia and he understands how significant these institutions are to the fabric of Black culture. MADAMENOIRE caught up with Toole to discuss his HBCU experience and what he believes makes the HBCU community one of a kind.
MADAMENOIRE: What was it about an HBCU experience that enticed you?
Tucker Toole: It’s really a family thing for me. But that wasn’t my initial thought process. It was an athletic scholarship or bust for me. Once the Division 1 offers and all that I wanted weren’t coming. I started to think of that second option. And basically, I saw my whole family go to HBCUs on both sides. My mom played tennis at a Texas HBCU and my dad played tennis at a Virginia HBCU. My aunt went to an HBCU in New Orleans. I have family who went to multiple HBCUs in D.C., Tennessee—you name it. I really saw how important that was because my family talked about their experiences in college and how much fun being on the yard was whether it was on line for a fraternity or sorority, playing sports at their respective HBCUs, the SWACor MEAC road trips they would take. Hearing those different experiences made me understand the HBCU route would not be a bad choice, especially if I wasn’t going to continue to play sports. That’s the main thing that really enticed me to pursue going to my alma mater because I really just saw a lot of my family go to HBCUs and talk about their experiences.
How has your HBCU helped you thrive?
I definitely think it motivated me. Being around a whole bunch of Black men at my college. Being the only all-black male school, that was something I hadn’t really seen before outside of an athletic space. You have talented young Black men striving in whatever field, whether it be science, engineering, business or any workforce or professional field you can think of. There are young men getting internships and upperclassmen getting full-time jobs after they graduate. All of that was motivation. And to see fellow brothers succeed was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.
Who were some of the people that had the biggest impact on your HBCU journey?
One person I would say is Isaiah Smalls II. He definitely had an influence on me, especially after seeing him get the Rhoden Fellowship, and being one of the few people at the school who were passionate about reporting on sports and talking about our school’s sports. I think that was something we had in common and he was able to sort of take me under his wing and help me along the way in terms of not just writing but how to operate within the journalism landscape.
Then, I would say there were some alums who definitely helped me along the way as well. Kevin Booker, he’s now Vice President of student life. He was dean of student life when I attended, but he was also one of those advisors or administrators who you could just walk into his office and talk to if you needed to or get some advice for a class or a teacher or any kind of situation that I might have been dealing with on campus at the time. He was sort of that advisor to help steer me on the right track and make sure that I was doing what I needed to do.
What makes an HBCU homecoming so unique?
I think the city of Atlanta is a start. If you’ve ever been to HBCU homecomings in that city, you know the whole West End is basically shut down, all the streets are filled and there’s traffic for four blocks. I would say that the city of Atlanta definitely shows up and shows out for homecoming.
Then you have the triumvirate of HBCUs with each having their own homecoming event. I think the dynamic of not only successful people but the family atmosphere. You can really say that about any HBCU homecoming because you get that atmosphere at any HBCU homecoming you go to. The all-women and all-men’s HBCU have a large family atmosphere and you never know who you’ll see out there. There are rappers, celebrities, actresses, actors who show up every year; not just to perform but just to come out and tailgate with people. I think those aspects are definitely what makes the two homecomings special and the fact both schools celebrate one joint homecoming. You get the flavor of both vibes and it all mixes together.
What are the benefits of being a part of the HBCU Family?
I think there’s honestly nothing like it in terms of that Black network. Whenever I speak about HBCUs, I emphasize that network because it’s so important we as black people create these networks so we can continue to have opportunities in these professional spaces. I personally believe that sort of networking has been going on for hundreds of years at private white institutions and other schools. HBCUs have to utilize those same things as well. I’ve seen networking create multiple opportunities for HBCU students across the board. That family atmosphere exists because you can be out at homecoming having fun with friends, but that friend you’re having fun with might be able to help you get a job or connect you with the person to get you that job or at least facilitate different business deals. There are certain aspects to that HBCU family and that HBCU Network I believe Black people really can’t get anywhere else.
How has your HBCU helped you navigate the world around you?
From a racial standpoint, it has opened my eyes. I will say before I got to my alma mater, I had questions about my Blackness or just was confused about certain aspects of life when it came to being Black. Being in an HBCU environment helped me find those answers. It really opened my eyes to so many things that are hidden from us on a mainstream level. Being at an HBCU and being in those Black history classes and those English classes where we debunk the racial tone in Shakespeare, those sort of moments and those sort of conversations with professors or administrators helped me answer those questions. HBCUs provide that on a large scale for all students. That is the main reason why students should go to HBCUs, so they can learn some of these things that they might not have learned elsewhere.
There’s something powerful about a place that gives Black people a chance to be enlightened and find themselves. For so many like Toole, the knowledge, perspective and network they gained at their HBCU have helped them embrace the potential they hold within.
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