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.
Zakiyyah Woods for NPR
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.
Zakiyyah Woods for NPR
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.
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.
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.