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  • My Degree Is Black

Charis Kelley| Prairie View | '01, 02


Welcome to the MDIB Yard Charis Kelley!


Reppin': Prairie View A&M University

Grad: 2001, 2002

Major: BS. of Architecture, M. of Community Development

Occupation: Artist


Can you briefly walk us through your HBCU story? How it started, how you got there, and how it helped you get to where you are today.

I chose PVAMU because this is where my maternal grandparents met, my grandfather on leave from the Navy, and my Grandmother at the 4H Annual Meeting. I felt compelled to continue the legacy and begin my journey at the exact place that made the thought of me even possible. Even my aunts, all nurses, matriculated here, so I knew here was where I belonged. Through immaturity, hardship, confusion, and small victories I knew I would survive and become the person I have grown to be - a productive impactful part of my community. Prairie View made me and I could never be more thankful for my journey.


How did your HBCU shape you and impact your understanding of Black Culture?

Becoming a part of this HBCU family was the best decision I could have ever made. My freshman year was difficult and I barely survived. Took 2 and a half years off and returned after a short stint at Houston Community College, to bring my GPA up. Coming back to campus with a more focused and renewed spirit felt like a fresh start. I went four years straight every semester including summers, honor roll, and becoming a campus leader. I became immersed in my studies and took advantage of every opportunity possible including representing the University in numerous events in different states. I gained a true sense of self while going to school here, becoming better than I ever could without the support of a school such as PVAMU. I don't think my development would have been as drastic and that is what I needed to grow into a better person. My understanding of Black Culture was an enlightening journey of life lessons, victories, and moments of clarifiable decisions that shape who I am today. Considering the legacy of what was and how I made a conscious decision to carry the legacy on this was the most important decision of my life.


Before we go any further, let's have a brag session! Tell us about your HBCU(s). What are y'all known for? What are the most exciting things about the yard?

"Welcome to the Hill", Pantherland is the only place for me. From the time you exit 290 and you turn on University Drive you can hear the Ancestors calling you toward The Yard. Alta Vista Plantation was a bad made good by education and its people. The beauty of what has been created here is something, unlike any other campus I have ever known. Prairie View has become a place of Educational Excellence and Panther Pride. Each incoming class possesses its own special sauce that they express in that year's PV shuffle. And they become a part of the fabric of what is an elaborate quilt of moments of time sewn together by threads and thoughts of those who have passed thru its hallowed halls. Upon completion, they ventured out to be the best. Through various areas of study, they have created a space of distinction at the top of their perspectives fields.


What do you say to people who believe HBCUs are not as good as Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)?

Your educational journey whether HBCU or PWI is your journey and no one else's. Judging an experience that is not your own, is truly without an educated perspective; and any critical comment without merit speaks of ignorance. To the people I say nothing. Let them think what they want. I'm not here to change minds, I'm here to change history and affect the shift.

"EVERY TIME I REFLECT ON THE MOMENT A FELLOW PANTHER SAVED ME, I AM SO PROUD WHEN I ENCOUNTER ALUM AND PARENTS WHO GRAVITATE TO ME BECAUSE OF A SHIRT OR PROUDLY WORN PULLOVER. AND FOREVER I CAN SAY A FELLOW PANTHER SAVED MY LIFE."

Tell us what you wish everyone in the world knew about the HBCU experience.

The opportunity to go to an HBCU was an amazing experience that can never be replaced for me. The setting of the standard of Black excellence and residing in the midst of those who not only take that seriously but also, make your experience feel like home. Homecoming is an unmatched feeling of the realistic "Charge to Keep the Legacy Alive" for the next generation of Panthers. Watching the young experience the University visiting with their parents, then actively making the choice to be a part of history - there's nothing like it and it speaks volumes to the infectious nature of the history and legacy that is Prairie View A&M University.


Tell us about your most memorable HBCU experiences. (Yes we in yo business, tell us about all of 'em!)

My most memorable experience that solidified my choice of why PV is so special happened actually in Dallas, Texas away from the campus. I traveled to Dallas with very little money to go to an interview for a possible job opportunity. After the interview, I got a cab back to the airport. I wasn't aware there were two airports in Dallas, so ultimately, I made a mistake and spent money going to the wrong airport. Once I discovered my mistake I was so far away from my desired location and I had less than $5. I walked to the nearest bus stop which was literally in the middle of nowhere. I asked God to guide me and even in my hopeless state knew my faith was important. As I sat and waited for at least a bus driver so I could begin my journey to Love Field, a white truck with DFW on the side approached. While I was still seated on the bus bench, the truck stopped and I heard a familiar voice call out and say, Slim, is that you? It was Reginald who had just graduated and had taken a job with the airport building terminals at DFW. He invited me to hop in the truck and after I explained my dilemma. He offered a solution that got me back on track with the few dollars I had, because of the new Alum after a warm exchange of pleasantries I got on the right bus that took me all the way to Love Field, and didn't miss my plane making it home. Every time I reflect on the moment a fellow Panther saved me, I am so proud when I encounter alum and parents who gravitate to me because of a shirt or proudly worn pullover. And forever I can say a fellow Panther saved my life. Now, we always reminisce at Homecoming and Reginald just says he's proud of who I've become so he's happy to be a part of my story



Was it like Hillman on "A Different World"?

For me, there were "Hillmanisk" moments, especially while residing in Banks Hall on Campus. I also started my journey in the 90s so we still got the opportunity to experience the last few moments of Real Campus Dorm Life before the shift to apartment-style living which began appearing in the summer of 95'. Dorm life was everything and allowed us to be communal - there's nothing like it. Yard Shows, Homecomings, Coronations, Football games (pre-Stadium) Talent Shows, and Baby Dome parties were everything! Also, the fact that history-making guests can change your life at PV. I met Geronimo Pratt, Outkast, and Erykah Badu before they became famous. PV 94 was LIVE! S/O to Beta Alpha Beta w/ CAB ( Campus Activity Board) - I was that before I was anything else.


As any alumni will tell you, HBCUs are nurturing environments. What person(s) during your HBCU experience deserves some flowers and recognition?

Mayor Ron Levertt and Nate Robinson were my guardian angels ( my father's roommates at University Arkansas Pine Bluff). He made sure I survived freshman year. Bro. Frank Jackson PV historian, My Dean Dr. Sabouni, Ms. Rice, Ms. Susan Broussard, head of Follett Bookstore, Mr. Brown my design teacher who also became my landlord. Don Williams my first boss (Grounds and Maintenace), Mrs. Diane Walker (second boss) for Construction and Planning, Mrs. Durham, Ms. Gertner, Coach Tank, Coach Gillam, Officer Perry, and a host of others. Now I get to watch my college friends fall into positions and become that person for the new generation.


How are you using what you learned from them in your everyday life?

My life has been built on not only surviving but thriving. In all the situations I have been thrown into PV taught me to adapt and shine. I strive to do that every day, effect change when possible, and always make time to serve others. These principles have been engrained into my DNA, and I make sure they are shared in my daily living because that's my purpose.


Thank you for showing us Your Yard and telling us Your Experience. Before you go, tell us, what do you imagine for the future of HBCUs?

The Future of HBCUs is much like the past with universities and campuses housing the great African American minds of innovation and change. Using their experiences and opportunities to create a personal path to greatness individually, while still possessing the passion for the Legacy of each illustrious university and college deemed an HBCU. As the World grows so shall the campuses and their overall impact on humanity they will be change agents who set precedence for achievement once out of reach. Through various fields of study, students will become innovators and creators of products, thoughts, laws, and lives that will continue to change the world and be remembered in the hallowed halls they once walked - continuing the Legacy of the Pride that is the HBCU.


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