An ode to Benedict College, an HBCU that rekindled this student’s dreams – NPR | Team Cansler

The drum majors of the Benedict College Marching Tigers Band of Distinction exit the field after a halftime performance during the school’s homecoming game on October 29, 2022.

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Dear Benedict,

Every October you open your gates and welcome your children home. Friends and alumni are sharing photos and stories on social media, reminiscing about the days we walked through your backyard while making travel arrangements on work computers to sit once again at our favorite hangouts. I never told you that, but unless someone on your admissions team took a chance on me—a young woman from Bed-Stuy Brooklyn with terrible grades, low SAT scores, and big dreams of being a reporter and photographer—none of it those memories would be mine and October would be just another month.

The Benedict College cheerleading team will perform on October 29, 2022 during the school’s homecoming weekend in front of the David H. Swinton Campus Center.

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The Benedict College cheerleading team will perform on October 29, 2022 during the school’s homecoming weekend in front of the David H. Swinton Campus Center.

Zakiyyah Woods for NPR

Fern Romero III, a graduating senior and defensive back on the Tigers football team, cheers on his teammates from the sidelines before returning to the field during the school’s homecoming game against the Clark Atlanta University Panthers on Oct. 29, 2022.

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I was too embarrassed to include in my application essay that Benedict College was my last chance to go to college. Being rejected by six of the seven schools I applied to early in my senior year of high school and never hearing a response from whoever put me on their waiting list took a toll on my mental and emotional health. I watched each of my friends shop and prepared to leave Brooklyn to attend the college of their choice while making peace with letting go of my childhood dreams of traveling the world in search of stories.

Members of the Benedict Tigers football team celebrate following their home win against the Clark Atlanta University Panthers on October 29, 2022.

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Members of the Benedict Tigers football team celebrate following their home win against the Clark Atlanta University Panthers on October 29, 2022.

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Mark Byrd of Charlotte, NC, (right) and Reverend Gillette Scott Ash of Charleston, SC celebrate the 50th class reunion of 1972 during the Tigers’ homecoming parade on October 29, 2022.

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The tailgate of Tiger fans during Benedict College’s homecoming game against the Clark Atlanta University Panthers on October 29, 2022.

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The tailgate of Tiger fans during Benedict College’s homecoming game against the Clark Atlanta University Panthers on October 29, 2022.

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One afternoon I grabbed my rejection letters and began the painful process of destroying them. Beneath the pile of white papers lay a purple and gold Benedict College brochure that I had requested days after I saw their gospel choir in a college competition hosted by my high school. The choir took second place, but something about their energy on stage made me know more about the school that most of the audience, including myself, had never heard of. I took the opportunity and filled out the application I printed off the school’s website, thinking I had nothing to lose. Benedict, you responded with an acceptance letter and pamphlets showing me everything I had to win.

Admission to the mass communications program was my chance to revive faded journalistic dreams. I joined this when I was a student tiger newspaper, I made friends that I can still count on to this day, and I never once had to try to prove to my teachers why I belong at Benedict College, because they did a wonderful job and remembered my worth have remembered.

Benedict College’s Marching Tigers Band of Distinction performs in front of the David H. Swinton Campus Center during homecoming weekend on October 29, 2022.

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Alumni celebrate Benedict College at HBCU’s October 2022 homecoming events.

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The Benedict College cheerleading team performs during the school’s homecoming parade October 29, 2022 on Sumter Street in downtown Columbia, SC.

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A lot has changed in the 15 years since I graduated. They elected the first female President and CEO in college history, Roslyn Clark Artist, and under her leadership, students continue to thrive in their fields. Earlier this year, they became the first to offer HBCU a varsity and esports degree, our soccer team has had a successful season, and in November, the Band of Distinction will march at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A lot of people don’t know these things about you, but I’ll try to spread the good news as best I can.

Graduates from Benedict College pose for a selfie at the school’s homecoming celebration in October.

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Alumni and supporters of Benedict College gather to watch the school’s Homecoming Parade in downtown Columbia, SC on October 29, 2022.

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One of Benedict College’s future tigers will be attending the school’s homecoming parade on October 29, 2022 with a lollipop in hand.

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Benedict College may not be as popular as some of the other larger HBCUs, but each of us who have had the privilege of being educated under your tutelage proudly adorns ourselves in the rich purple and gold of your letters, shield and emblem, and sings the last line of our song loudly: “Alma mater, strong and true, Alma mater always! Benedict, we sing to you. Faithful we, forever.”

Zakiyyah Woods is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. You can find more of her work at ZakiyyahWoods.com and on Instagram at @lens.on.swivel.

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