Last year, I stood under the Maryland moonlight on the evening of a once-every-19-year eclipse in my zodiac. I was 19 years old the last time it had occurred. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would remain in a complicated relationship with that grown teenager for the next two decades. It would take a full year to develop the gratitude and grace for my former self that would propel me to honor and appreciate the strong and successful woman I have become since then.
Enter my beloved HBCU, Xavier University of Louisiana, of which I am an incredibly proud class of 2005 graduate.
It was fall 2001 when a completely not-ready-for-the-world girl ventured from south Jersey to New Orleans, stomping in wheat-colored Timbs and clad in camouflage clothing with a backpack to match. It was my first time away from home for longer than two weeks and the only time I felt forced to socialize outside of comfort. I quickly grew to form friendly bonds with people, which came in handy just a few short weeks later when my mother died. I learned the value of community that week, still, my freshman year was riddled with trauma that led to an outburst of a sophomore year.
Spiritually, I think I got stuck at age 19, the year I made most of my coming-of-age mistakes and pulled in the most stagnant energy that stayed with me for two decades. I grew incredibly remorseful and held a disdain for the teenage version of myself. Forgiveness would not come, and I refused to acknowledge any positivity. My emotions were wrapped in discomfort with my university, the people I knew, the city I loved, and the girl I once was. Coming home would be impossible.
Homecoming 2022 would be the second return to the in-person gathering since COVID-19 robbed my classmates and me of our 15-year reunion.
I had absolutely no intention of attending homecoming this year. The last time I went was during my 10-year reunion when I lived just down the highway in Baton Rouge and the university had selected me as one of its 40 under 40 young alumni award recipients. Even still, I had decided that I wouldn’t return until 2025 when my class would celebrate our 20th reunion and the university, its centennial. But as it happened, my alma mater contracted me to produce its annual alumni magazine and thought my attending homecoming this year would greatly benefit the publication. I was incredibly apprehensive and unnerved.
Who would I see? Would I feel comfortable? It’s been so long. Does anyone even care if they see me on the yard? What was I going to wear? Am I just going to work or should I pack some party clothes?
One 45-pound suitcase, medium Bushwick Birkin, and small roller board later I headed on down.
My first day on campus was spent celebrating the university’s new fundraising campaign at the president’s leadership breakfast. I saw a few familiar faces, enjoyed a traditional southern meal of shrimp and grits, and a second line exit complete with parasol and handkerchief. After spending the rest of the day in the downtown area, I returned to campus for an art show where I hugged people who felt like home. As a rush of emotions took over, I stepped outside and sat near the mouth of the campus watching the sun creep just below the arch displaying the university’s name.
The next day, I caught eyes with my fellow alumna and former professor, Dr. Rockell Brown Burton. She and I excitedly waved at each other, each of us holding large cell phones to our ears. Once we formally greeted each other, I asked about her new job at Syracuse University. She briefly answered. As we pulled in for an embrace, she said, “I’m so proud of you.” Then she introduced me to her freshman year roommate as one of her first students as I remarked that she was my hardest communications professor. “Let’s make sure we get a picture this week,” she told me.
There was something about the pride she expressed that felt so genuine and free. I wouldn’t call myself humble, but I don’t often give myself credit for my accomplishments. Honestly, I’ve downplayed everything I’ve ever done, no matter the public perception of success. It’s never felt like the mountaintop for me. But there was this phenomenally successful Black woman who remembered me as her student and has been able to keep in touch via social media saying to me that she was proud. And I knew she meant it.
“I’m so proud of you” swiftly became the week’s mantra as Black excellence encountered Black excellence. I got that when I spent a few minutes talking with the good brothers of Black Coffee Company and with my peer mentor Dr. Allissa Richardson. Again with fellow mass communication graduates or even in passing with people I know only in passing. Whether we ran across each other during tailgating or if we were scrambling to snap a photo with our favorite bounce artists who were performing on campus, or even at a nightclub during our collective showcase of still got them good knees, we recognized the strides and actualization of goals in each other. I rubbed elbows with these people as lost teenagers navigating one of the wildest cities in America as students at an incredibly rigorous university where you are expected to matriculate into a successful servant leader and professional.
There we all were at homecoming decades later, entrepreneurs and doctors and lawyers and media professionals, engineers, and industry leaders, telling the grown versions of each other how proud we were. Except when I heard those words, I re-gifted them to 19-year-old me.
“Thank you, little girl,” I said eyelashes wet with compassion.
How long I held on to shortcomings as if a teenage version of myself had access to the woman I’d someday become. Far too often, we beat up on past versions of ourselves due to unrealistic expectations we only understand as we grow older. I am no one if that teenager didn’t experience life as she had, carving the path for me to become.
By the end of the week, the stagnant energy I had held for so long slowly crept up my throat. I found myself lying on the bed in my hotel room engaging the spirits and asking them to take away the energy. “I don’t want it anymore,” I repeated until the sun crept through the large windows facing the central business district.
How full I had become just knowing that the energy on campus was welcoming, that people I admired shared mutual pride with me, and that the city in all its big easy glory effortlessly welcomed me home.
On my last morning in town, I walked along the Mississippi River taking in the healing vibes of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” and marveling at Mariah Carey’s sick pen game on “Somewhat Loved.” I walked by a variety of vendors and fortune tellers, breathed in the early November humidity, and sipped on a chicory coffee, fingers covered in powdered sugar. At that moment, I never felt so free of weights I didn’t know I was holding, of energy that kept my brain on a continuous loop of remorse.
How I had managed to become despite it all is beyond me. But I am ever so grateful to the community of Black excellence from which I grew for reminding me that I am a strong and prosperous woman worthy of every goal I embark upon. That I among a long line of Xaverities ready to be a blessing after giving myself the àṣẹ I deserved for many years.
I returned to Maryland grateful not only for the weeklong experience but for the 19-year-old who made me, just as the blood moon eclipse in my zodiac pledged to wash away karmic energy. You are always where you are supposed to be and if you ever forget who you are, I hope you’ll accept when someone reminds you.