The Black Student Union (BSU) was always one of my favorite things about high school. Freshman year, I went to Oceana High School in Pacifica, and I remember the school having a very active BSU. Oceana had a small population of black students, so the BSU provided a judgement-free space for us to connect with one another. I remember being excited to go to conferences and events where we would network with other black students, but the highlight for me, was probably the Black History Month assembly. I know we had several components to the program, but my contribution was a dance we choreographed to Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down by Puff and Mase. Overall, Oceana was fine, but after a year there, I was looking for a better high school experience, so I changed schools.
Sophomore year, I left Oceana and went to Capuchino High School in San Bruno. Moving to San Bruno meant the student population was much more white, but Capuchino had one of the nicer campuses I’d seen and much better weather than Pacifica. I joined the cheerleading team and dance team and became fully immersed in the school in a way that I hadn’t at Oceana. Again, I joined the BSU to connect with the limited population of black students; however, the BSU on this campus, didn’t have the same presence as the one at Oceana. For example, we also put on a Black History Month assembly, but this time the dance routine was to Sisqo’s Thong Song! We were obviously more concerned with what was popular than what was actually relevant. And if I recall, the BSU at Oceana consisted of all black members, but at Capuchino, having an all-black group meant you had to answer questions. I remember getting ready to go to a BSU meeting with a friend, when I a white student approached us and asked why he wasn’t allowed to join us. My friend replied: “Because you have the whole school!” We laughed and for some reason I always remembered that brief exchange. It may have been then that I actually thought about what it would be like to go to a school where I didn’t have to explain.
I did a lot of research to prepare for college, and read a lot of books. I remember I had a book called The 100 Best Colleges for African-American Students. I stopped reading after the Chapter on Howard University. I was sold! I already knew that I was going to apply to multiple HBCUs, but I decided that if I was going to pass up all of California’s great universities for an HBCU, I needed to make sure it was the best one. ‘Finesse God’ scandal aside…I still think it’s the best. I didn’t realize how small the black community in the Bay Area was, until I got to DC. Granted, the neighborhood surrounding DC was really hood, the HU collegiate experience made up for it. I had grown up hearing about how “diverse” the Bay Area was, but I was also always one of few black kids in everything I did. I could count the number of black kids in my classes in school, just like I could count the number of black kids in my dance classes, karate classes and everything else I did. My sister and I were raised in Daly City, which was, and still is, largely populated by Filipino people. Our extended family was in SF, but outside of Fillmore, Bayview, and Lakeview, it has a majority Asian population as well. By the time I got to Howard, I just wanted to be with more black people, and the experience did not let me down.
I remember when I truly felt I was home. Tommy Davidson hosted a comedy show in Cramton Auditorium, and it was packed. The comedian wasn’t getting any laughs and the crowd eventually started booing. So, Tommy Davidson returned to the stage, grabbed the mic and started singing, “From the first time, I saw your face, girl I knew I had to have you…” the crowd started to join in and by the time he got the chorus of Let’s Chill, the entire auditorium was singing! This is the type of thing that could only happen at an HBCU. And I have so many other stories just like that one; I was afforded the opportunity to truly and wholeheartedly celebrate my blackness.
I have been back in the Bay Area since I graduated, and I’ve noticed its even less “diverse” now, or at least there are less black people. For a while, my husband and I discussed moving back to DC, but after kids and careers and life, that never happened. So, here we are, trying to make the most of it and establishing our presence in what used to be Fillmore. This is where I am raising my own family, so I embrace it, but I’ll always reflect fondly on my choice to go to the Real HU and my time in Chocolate City.