Over the years I have been asked this question hundreds of times.
Why did you choose to go to Johnson C Smith University?
Most people would say they went to college for either financial aid, the football team, or a tour of the University. My reason for attending was simple “To get away” Most would say that’s a weird reason to go to college. Let’s go back to 2001. In the fall of 2001 was the start of my senior year of high school. I had been in Air Force ROTC for a few years of high school and was making progress up in the ranks. During a college recruitment event, I went through the process of talking to all the schools and collecting informational pamphlets. None of which excited me until I came across a table with the United States Marine Corps. After talking with the recruiter for 10 minutes, he gave me his card with his personal number. I was kinda hyped about the opportunities the Marines were offering. It was way a better than the option than what I thinking. Towards the end of my Junior year, I broke a wrist during wrestling practice and my dream of wrestling for a college university went slowly down the drain. The recruiter called me a few days later and asked if he could come to my house to meet my mom. Well, mom wasn’t very impressed and wanted me to make the choice about the Marine. I held off for a bit in making my decision by talking to an Air Force recruiter. The Air Force recruiter was so dry and boring. As November started to approach, I was gearing up for my last season as a wrestler at Southern Wayne. On a few of my home wrestling matches, I would see the recruiter and he would speak to me. He always asked if I was ready to make the decision of a lifetime. Looking back now, I think he was stalking me. He knew my address, phone number, class schedule, and wrestling schedule. Real stalkerish!! I finished up my last year of wrestling and called the recruiter. “Let’s do this” I met with my guidance counselor the next day and told her my decision. She was happy and sad at the same time. This lady had been my high school counselor for four long years. She let me know that my grades were eligible for colleges and I should apply as a backup. She also gave me a flyer for a two college tour that was happening in a few weeks. First college tour included visits to the HBCUs of North Carolina Central University, St. Augustine’s University and Shaw University. I had never heard of HBCUs in North Carolina. The top schools in North Carolina are Duke, North Carolina, East Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, and the list goes on and on. I decided to go since I nothing else to do that weekend.
The second college tour included North Carolina A & T and Winston-Salem State University. I feel in love with NC Central and North Carolina A & T. If you have ever been to a HBCU during the fall, the best part of a football game was the halftime show. It was so dope to see the band on the field doing the breakdown. I enjoyed the college tour and just loved the atmosphere. It was like I was at a big family reunion with strangers who treated me like family. When I got back to reality, I still wanted to pursue a career with the Marines. I come from a military background on my father’s side of the family. My uncles and cousins lined up my grandmother’s picture wall. Only one branch of service was missing in the wall “The Marines”. I was going to fulfill that missing piece as I thought. After completing all the necessary paperwork, it was time for me to head to MEPS for processing with the Marines.
Before I left, I happened to clean up my room and found all these college applications in my junk drawer. I started looking at each one and narrowed my selections based to three colleges: NC Central, North Carolina Wesleyan, Western Carolina University. North Carolina A & T. was out due to the university not having a criminal justice program and a lot of people chose to go to A&T from my high school. I found another application under my bed which was for Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU). On the top of the application, it stated no application fee just transcript was needed. All those high college application fees are non-refundable and average around $40.00 per application. After a day or two in Raleigh at MEPS center. I was cleared to process with the Marines after meeting with the doctor. After a few days, my recruiter called me and told me I had to get another eye exam. I scheduled with him to go up the next week to take the exam. I was told my vision prevented me from moving forward with the process. The ride back home was a numbing feeling that I couldn’t shake for a few days. I thought I didn’t have a plan until I went to see my guidance counselor. She gave me the option of attending the local community college for two years then transfer. I wasn’t feeling that answer at all but it was all I had on the table.
Fast forward to April, all the seniors were posting their acceptance letter to all the Universities and I didn’t have any at all. I would avoid going by the main office just not to see all those letters of admission. Then one day, in the mail was two letters from NC Central and North Carolina Wesleyan. Then letters from Western Carolina University and Johnson C Smith University followed the next week. I was excited that I had a chance to attend college. I narrowed my search down to NC Central and Johnson C Smith. My selection came to the location and financial aid. Western Carolina was too cold in the mountains. NC Wesleyan was too close to home. NC Central offered less financial aid money and JC Smith offered what I thought was a good financial aid program plus it was four hours away from home. I chose to get away from the Dudley and accepted going to Johnson C. Smith University. I never went on a college tour to Smith until it was Golden Bull orientation. Orientation was cool, I got a chance to stay in some nice dorms. My roommate was from New York and he was kinda weird. He would clean his shoes every night and sleep with no air on. Air force ones were the thing to have and he made sure they were clean. I’m from the south so I blasted the air at night. I learned so much during Golden Bull orientation. I learned how to play spades and what reneging was. I enjoyed myself and started to fall in love with the University. There were shorter names for Johnson C. Smith like Smith and JCSU.
The presentation from golden bull academy left a great impression on me. That was short-lived after I got to campus and got my real dorm assignment. I was placed in Carter Hall on the third floor. I was so upset when I got to my room assignment because my roommate had already picked out his bed and fixed the room up. This was my first time sleeping in a room with a stranger. After we talked, I learned he played in the band and played the trumpet. We didn’t click at all in the beginning, and I was ready to leave Smith after the first semester. I reached out to my high school coach and asked him if I should quit and come back home. The advice he gave me was to finish out the semester and transfer out. I started making a list of colleges and reached out to a few wrestling coaches I had met during my senior year of high school. I talked to coaches from Davidson College and UNC Pembroke. Pembroke was willing to take me as a walk-on at the 117 lb or 121 lb weight classes. I scheduled a tour in October to visit the University and meet with the head coach. My mind was set to leave JCSU, I was home sick and couldn’t flow with the college community living environment. My mind soon started to change when homecoming week came along and I went to every event on campus. Remember my roommate from Golden Bull orientation, he became one of my good friends at Smith. The reason I stayed at Smith was a conversation with now Dean Cathy Jones. One morning, after my 8 am class I called my mom complaining about the food and classes. My mom had met Cathy Jones sometime during our campus visit and kept her number. My mom told me to go visit Mrs. Jones and from that day meeting Mrs. Jones she became my JCSU mom. We had a real conversation for about an hour and she introduced me to a few of her older students.
After my first semester coming back home reminded me to keep pursuing my education at Smith. I remember having on a hoodie with the JCSU logo on it and a man stopped me and told me to remember why HBCUs were started and I continued that legacy. The man told me that his greatest regret was not finishing college when he had a chance to. He reminded me of the quote from the great guitarist B.B. King “Education is the one thing that no one can take from you” The old man was right. Smith began to grow on me more and more as I spent time on the yard. Looking back, my first year was great and it kept getting better and better as the years went on.
I honestly don’t think I would have had the same experience at another institution. The friendships that were forged is like having an extended family all over the world. I was able to accomplish not just getting a degree but to establish lasting memories. Smith taught survival instincts especially at cafe parties and after the cafe closed after dinner. Smith taught negotiation and conflict skills as an RA, in the business and financial offices. Smith taught resilience. Smith taught never forget those behind you and always help life them up. Smith taught a hustle mindset. Smith taught how to work in organizations and partner with others get things done. Smith taught how to have fun but remember why you were there. Smith taught to know your limits and that I wasn’t Superman. Smith taught how to be humble. Smith taught to never stop busting your butt, especially on the senior paper. Smith taught how to keep it together when things fall apart. Smith taught you how to juggle school, relationships, extra-curricular activities, and a part-time job. This may be tailored to Smith, I believe most college you will get these things but there is nothing like a HBCU experience.
Johnson C Smith C/O 2006