The HBCU connection is one of the most unique cultural bonds amongst Black people. Over 180 years ago, the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded and these institutions have been centers for Black expression, innovation and pride ever since.
Tylik McMillan, a young civil rights leader who works as a policy advisor, and serves as the National Director of Youth and College for Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, knows how crucial these institutions are to the fabric of Black culture. As a Spring 2019 graduate of a North Carolina HBCU, McMillian is now one of the most prominent young civil rights leaders in the country. MADAMENOIRE got a chance to pick his brain about the HBCU experience and what is special about being a part of the Black college community.
MADAMENOIRE: What enticed you about going to an HBCU?
Tylik McMillan: For me, I didn’t know too much about HBCUs. I had a little small one in my community, but I wasn’t too well informed of it. The part that drew me to it was just the concept of being connected to history. As you may know, I’m involved in civil rights. —And HBCUs have played a pivotal role within civil rights. It was the rich history and legacy of the school that [helped] me make the decision. I think of people like Jesse Jackson and folks like that. For me, it was important to be around folks who looked like me, who understood where I came from, to see teachers who understood my upbringing and to just be around a bunch of Black excellence.
MN: How has going to an HBCU helped you achieve?
The connection. I tell the story all the time about SGA elections, an HBCU SGA election is like no other. Being from an HBCU is kind of like [being part of a] family to a point. —And I think it’s helped me in public speaking. It’s helped me in my interactions with folks. They teach you not what to think about, but how to think and I’m grateful for that. I am grateful to come from a school, where it wasn’t this cookie-cutter … you got to do this, you got to do that. But coming from a school that helps you embrace your background, embrace who you are as a black person, but also bring that to the front and not be afraid of it … to be unapologetic about it. —And I think my HBCU experience and coming from an HBCU, helps me to be unapologetically me in these spaces. Going off to college, [many] think people change and become this different person. But for me, I think the experience really enhanced who I was … to really just own up and stand in my proudness of being Black but also being a successful Black person.
MN: Who were some of the people along your HBCU journey who helped you become unapologetically who you are?
I would definitely shout out professors such as Professor Derick Smith out of our political science department. His way of teaching, I think, helped change the way I view politics and how I view certain situations. Also, shout out to Sharon Hoard from the office of student development, she was a pivotal part of my life at school.
MN: What does Homecoming mean to the culture of HBCUs?
The whole family aspect of it. You know, homecoming is literally like no other. I mean you have thousands of alumni coming back. And it’s not about if they know you or not. Just because you are an Aggie or you got a [school] shirt on, it just bridges that family gap.
My first GHOE experience, I was a little nervous. People talked about it so much. But for me it was definitely the tailgate, it was the yard and to see how people connected. It reminded me of a lit cookout in the backyard. Then, the football game; football games are like no other. Going to an HBCU football game is just not normal. Walking the track, and seeing people screaming and yelling. It’s really unexplainable if you ask me. You have to be there to experience it.
MN: What is it like being a part of the HBCU Community after you graduate?
It’s like a big family. It is like a big LinkedIn in its own sense. And so anytime you run into somebody who’s from another school. Of course, it’s that fun rivalry between you two and you can talk your trash about what school is better and how your school is better, who has the most pride or the best homecoming. But at the end of the day, one thing that I can say is an HBCU alum is definitely going to look out for another HBCU alum.
It’s just that power of networking and the power of that experience. That experience that you share with each other even though you might have different experiences… that’s something that helps connect you in these places. And surprisingly not, there are so many HBCU graduates who are doing amazing things in different spaces and it just serves as a big connector. I call it the big LinkedIn for HBCUs. A lot of times in these spaces, It’s not about what you know, or how high your IQ is, it does not matter. But it’s about who you know and it’s definitely provided that connection piece.
MN: How has being an HBCU grad helped you navigate the world around you?
I think you have a different perspective when you come from an HBCU. I mean, a lot of these folks think because they come from these Ivy League schools that they deserve a seat at the table. And I think it helped me because you bring a different perspective that these other folks don’t bring. Coming from a historically underfunded, under-resourced, school…it shows how relevant HBCUs are and I think being in these spaces helps shine a light on what HBCUs produce.
Everyone doesn’t have to go to Ivy League schools … these are our Ivy League schools because when nobody else gave us a chance, these HBCUs gave us a chance. So for me, it shows resilience. It shows how you can face anything, even when you may not have the best of resources or funding you still can make it do what it do. And I think that’s what it portrays, it portrays Black Excellence.
Magic happens when you’re in a place that not only accepts you but pushes you to become the best version of yourself. For so many young Black people like McMillan, the love and empowerment they received at their HBCU has helped propel them to the heights that they stand at today.
Presented by AT&T Dream In Black Rising Future Makers
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)