The HBCU connection is one of the most unique cultural ties among black people. Over 180 years ago, the first historically black colleges and universities were founded and these institutions have been centers of expression, innovation and pride for black people ever since.
Tylik McMillan, a young civil rights leader who works as a political advisor and serves as National Director of Youth and College for Reverend Al Sharpton 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 nation’s most prominent young civil rights leaders. MADAMENOIRE got the chance to pick her brain out of the HBCU experience and what’s special about being a part of the black college community.
MADAMENOIRE: What prompted you to go to an HBCU?
Tylik McMillan: For me, I didn’t know much about HBCU. I had a small one in my community, but was not very knowledgeable about it. The part that attracted me was just the concept of being connected to the story. As you may know, I am involved in civil rights. – And the HBCUs have played a central role within the framework of civil rights. It was the rich history and heritage of the school which [helped] me make the decision. I think of people like Jesse jackson and people like that. For me, it was important to be surrounded by people who looked like me, who understood where I came from, to see teachers who understood my education and to simply be surrounded by a group of black excellence.
MN: How has switching to an HBCU helped you be successful?
The connection. I tell the story of SGA elections all the time, one HBCU SGA election is unlike any other. Being from an HBCU is a bit like [being part of a] family to some extent. – And I think it helped me to speak in public. It helped me in my interactions with people. They don’t teach you what to think, but how to think and I appreciate that. I’m grateful to come from a school, where it wasn’t that cookie cutter… you got to do this, you got to do that. But coming from a school that helps you embrace your past, embrace who you are as a black person, but also bring that to the fore and not be afraid of it … so you don’t apologize for it. -And I think my HBCU experience, and coming from an HBCU, helps me to be unabashedly myself in these spaces. Go to college, [many] think that people change and become that different person. But for me, I think the experience really improved who I was… to really embrace and be proud of my pride in being black but also being a successful black person.
MN: Who are the people throughout your HBCU journey who have helped you shamelessly become who you are?
I would certainly cry out to professors like Professor Derick Smith in our political science department. His way of teaching, I think, has helped change my way of seeing politics and the way I see certain situations. Thanks also to Sharon Hoard from the Student Development Office, she played a central role in my life at school.
MN: What does Homecoming mean for HBCU culture?
All the family aspect of it. You know, coming home is literally like no other. I mean thousands of alumni are coming back. And it’s not about whether they know you or not. Just because you are an Aggie or have 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 hatchback, it was the yard and seeing how people connected. It reminded me of a barbecue lit in the backyard. Then the football match; football matches are unlike any other. Going to an HBCU football game just isn’t normal. Walk the trail and see people screaming and screaming. It’s really inexplicable if you ask me. You have to be there to experience it.
MN: How does it feel to be part of the HBCU community after you graduate?
It’s like a big family. It’s like a big LinkedIn in its own sense. And so every time you meet someone from another school. Of course, it’s that fun rivalry between the two of you and you can talk about what school is best and how your school is better, who has the most pride or the best homecoming. But at the end of the day one thing I can say is that a former HBCU is definitely going to be looking for another HBCU alum.
It’s just that power of networking and the power of that experience. This experience that you share with each other even though you have different experiences… it’s something that helps you connect in those places. And surprisingly no, there are so many HBCU graduates doing amazing things in different spaces and it just serves as a great connector. I call it the big LinkedIn for HBCUs. Often in these spaces it’s not about what you know or your IQ, it doesn’t matter. But it’s about who you know and that’s definitely what makes the connection.
MN: How has graduating from HBCU helped you navigate the world around you?
I think you have a different point of view when you come from an HBCU. I mean, a lot of these people think because they’re 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 people don’t. Coming from a historically underfunded, underfunded school… it shows how relevant HBCUs are and I think being in these spaces helps shine a light on what HBCUs produce.
Not everyone has to go to Ivy League schools… these are our Ivy League schools because when no one else gave us a chance these HBCUs gave us a chance . So for me, it shows resilience. It shows how you can cope with anything, even when you don’t have the best resources or funding, you can still get it to do what it does. And I think that’s what he portrays, he portrays black excellence.
Magic happens when you are in a place that not only accepts you, but pushes you to be the best version of yourself. For so many young black people like McMillan, the love and empowerment they received in their HBCU has helped propel them to the heights they are at today.
Presented by AT&T Dream In Black Rising Future Makers
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)