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HBCU Graduations

While I had big shoes to fill at Morgan State, I proudly accepted the challenge

How anti-literacy laws inspired this Rhoden Fellow to follow in the footsteps of some of Morgan State’s most prestigious journalists

In April 1831, my home state of Virginia made it illegal for Black people, both free and enslaved, to learn how to read and write. Anti-literacy laws prevented my great-grandparents from having the opportunity to be literate or ever becoming successful authors, journalists and storytellers. Now, I am the literate journalist and storyteller they could not be. As I sit here 191 years later, days away from graduating from a historically Black college and university (HBCU), I can proudly say that my decision to attend Morgan State was always bigger than just getting an education.

Like many other Black students, I chose an HBCU to be immersed in an environment where people look like me, think like me and appreciate me unconditionally. I wanted to be in a place where I felt safe. I chose Morgan State to carry on the legacy of receiving the higher education that generations of Black people before me worked so hard to achieve but were often denied.

Several notable Black authors and journalists are Morgan State alumni and have been an inspiration for me as a budding journalist. Earl G. Graves Sr., who founded the magazine Black Enterprise and later wrote the book How to Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk on Making it in America, graduated from Morgan State in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Accomplished author and award-winning sports columnist William C. Rhoden graduated from Morgan State in 1973 with a degree in English. In 2017, he founded Andscape’s Rhoden Fellowship, a one-year internship program that identifies and trains aspiring Black journalists from HBCUs such as myself. Veteran journalist April Ryan, the longest-serving Black female White House correspondent, with her 25-year tenure spanning five presidential administrations, graduated from Morgan State in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. When I receive my bachelor’s in multimedia journalism on May 21 after just three years as an undergraduate and a student-athlete (softball), I will add my name to this list of esteemed journalists from Morgan State.

Besides its rich academic history, Morgan State has also taught me the value of being a young Afro-Latina woman in a world that doesn’t always see my value. Growing up, my K-12 education experience was always in a predominantly white environment, one in which I often felt like the odd person out or as if I didn’t belong or, most importantly, as if I had to conform to meet a specific standard based on race and ethnicity.

Morgan State taught me the beauty in being Black and Chilean, in having brown skin and curly hair, in embracing my culture. On campus, I found comfort in the fact that I truly belonged, that no one questioned my existence and that the people in my classes truly wanted me to succeed.

Being at an HBCU also exposed me to opportunities that I could not have imagined being a part of at a predominantly white institution. Besides being a Rhoden Fellow, I was featured in Under Armour’s Black History Month campaign in February, highlighting student-athletes from Morgan State. This is one of my fondest memories from my time at Morgan and something I will never forget.

Having accepted my dream job, a full-time position with ESPN Next, I am overjoyed and grateful for the experiences that Morgan State afforded me. They helped create the passionate friend, student, athlete, storyteller, sister and daughter I am today. My dreams are coming true right before my eyes, and attending an HBCU gave me the confidence to believe that I am worthy of chasing and achieving those dreams.

So, thank you, Fair Morgan, for giving me the proper platform and changing the trajectory of my life. A huge thank you to Bill Rhoden for paving the way. Because of trailblazers like him who graduated from Morgan, I can confidently know that I am “up next.” What can I say? It’s the Morgan Way!

Cayla Sweazie is a member of the Andscape social team and is probably making a TikTok right now. She is a former HBCU athlete (Go Bears) who now covers HBCU sports, lifestyle and culture.