No matter how many times I drive it, every time I approach the Lee Street exit on interstate 20, I begin to experience feelings of delightful anticipation and excitement. If my kids are in the car, I’ll probably make some enthusiastic remark like “Kids, this is where it all began” or “So many good memories here”. Of course, their teenage ears almost never receive those remarks with like enthusiasm. I usually sigh a little inside, hoping that one day their paths will lead them to 830 Westview Drive and 350 Spelman Lane. Then we can share a mutual nostalgia, similar to what my Dad and I now enjoy. As I ride down Lee Street these feelings of exhilaration mount, and I’m flooded with memories. Stepping on campus I feel immersed in warmth. I feel camaraderie. I feel…home.
No matter how many times I visit, I’m consumed by this ritual of emotions. Morehouse College is a special place. Special for an endless list of reasons, some explicit and tangible, others more abstract. Over the years, I’ve often heard alumni summarize this mystique as “The Black Experience”. Representatives of the college often espouse this concept as a way to convince prospective students to attend Morehouse. I’ve also heard detractors counter “I don’t need The Black Experience. I’m Black.” In a time where White classmates are calling the police on sleeping Black students at PWI’s, we certainly shouldn’t be underestimating the value of placing a premium on the opportunity to be unapologetically Black. In a time when Black students at PWI’s are being snatched off the graduation stage for “excessive” celebration, we ought to highlight institutions that recognize the arduous obstacles and near impossible struggles that students have overcome in their relentless pursuit of a better life. I have a classmate who came to Morehouse by himself because his parents could only afford one plane ticket. He got to the airport, took the train to West End Station, and walked to campus with his luggage. This student went to class during the day and worked until midnight, after which he would go back to the dorm and study. He eventually earned a scholarship and graduated with a math degree. Such a student has every reason to be proud of himself, and a little dancing on stage to culminate his achievements isn’t too much to ask. Places like Morehouse recognize this. Indeed, the impact of The Black Experience cannot be understated.
There is another aspect of Morehouse that I believe deserves more attention than it is normally afforded. Academic rigor and likelihood for success. It always baffles me to hear a student or parent dismiss Morehouse (or any HBCU) because they want to have a higher chance of success in life. Such a perspective is completely at odds with the empirical data. HBCU graduates account for only 10% of all Black students graduating from college, yet account for 40% of Black professional engineers, 80% of Black judges, and 70% of Black science graduate students at top 10 schools. We can even dig a little deeper. As a student at Morehouse, I double-majored in Physics and Mathematics, so I conducted a little research relative to Physics and Mathematics degrees conferred at Morehouse and other institutions. I’ve also compiled statistics nationally. This year Morehouse awarded degrees to 397 students. 16 of those degrees were in Physics, and 35 were in Mathematics. So, Physics degrees represented about 4% of all degrees awarded, while Mathematics degrees represented almost 9% of all degrees awarded. Of course, these figures have no meaning without a benchmark. If I consider the same statistics nationally, then Physics degrees represent 0.42% of all degrees, and Mathematics degrees represent 1.19%. This means that Morehouse is producing Physics majors at nearly 10 times the national rate; Math majors at 8 times the national rate. In fact, not even Harvard and MIT (both top 5 in Physics) are producing Physics and Math graduates at an equivalent rate.
Given the aforementioned statistics, Morehouse graduates (and HBCU graduates in general) are statistically overrepresented in almost every profession, graduate school, and professional school. So, if we’re talking “likelihood”, then a student’s probability of success is increased by choosing to attend Morehouse. The reasons for this are multifaceted, but overall it’s because the institution as a whole is dedicated to your success, from the cafeteria staff to the professors. I remember being in Set Theory class with Dr. Gore. Among his many talents, Dr. Gore possessed the ability to remember all of the students in his classes. On one occasion I remember him realizing a certain student was not in class. He asked if any class members knew why the student was absent, and some said he was asleep in his room. Dr. Gore instructed one of the students in the class to go back to the dorm and bring our classmate to class. On another occasion Dr. Gore happened to look out of the window and saw a student walking past with a young lady. He shouted down to the student, “Mr. ______, you were not in class today. Did you have more important things to do?” Dr. Gore was also a proud graduate of Morehouse College. A professor’s desire to see students succeed at Morehouse is often very personal, and it shows. Of course, you learn quickly not to mistake their love of students for facility of coursework. They will love you and fail you if necessary. I had one Differential Equations professor, Dr. Martin, who was notorious for failing students. There was even a rumor that he failed his wife when she took his class. On the first day of class, he addressed this rumor saying, “There’s this nasty little rumor going around that I’m so heartless that I failed my own wife. I never did any such thing. I NEVER failed my wife. I failed her brother.” If you could navigate this type of rigor, you could do so anywhere.
I recently celebrated 20 years since my graduation from Morehouse College, and I attended many of the associated events. People who came to college as idealistic, sometimes frightened, students were now Teachers, Medical doctors, Ph.D.’s, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, corporate executives, authors, and everything in between. It was in the AUC that they were equipped with the skills, confidence, and training to be the best in every endeavor. I’m so proud of them, and when all my empirical data and research needs a personal anecdotal touch, theirs are the examples I point to.