- My Degree Is Black
LaBaron Coleman | Southern University | '09
Welcome to the MDIB Yard LaBaron Coleman!
Reppin': Southern University
Occupation: Senior Application Support & Systems Trainer
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.
My HBCU story starts at birth. I grew up in a small, predominantly black, town about 20 miles west of Grambling State University. From Sunday mornings to Saturday nights, my family and I listened to 91.5 (KGRM), Grambling State University’s Radio station. My Aunt, my Dad, cousins, church members, neighbors, teachers; basically every adult I knew growing up attended, graduated, or worked for Grambling State University. I knew a few other adults that graduated from Southern but still 95% of everyone in my life who went to college, went to an HBCU. The pride and love everyone had for Grambling were infectious. I remember standing outside one early Sunday morning in May, watching President Bill Clinton’s helicopter fly over Gibslnd, headed to give GSU’s 1999 Commencement Speech. At the time. I didn’t hear about LSU, Louisiana Tech, or any other PWIs having a President coming to their campus. Over the years and after matriculating thru Gibsland-Coleman High School, I knew I wanted to go to an HBCU. Little known fact but my hometown, my high school was the site of one of Louisiana’s first HBCUs, Coleman College! Coleman College, called “the first black institution of higher learning in North Louisiana,” opened in 1890. I knew if I wanted to be somebody and go somewhere, I had to go to Grambling. After attending NYSP, Project Upward Bound, and Higher Ability all on the campus of Grambling State, I started looking into other schools by my Junior year of high school. I was a shy kid and I knew if I wanted to grow up, I had to go to college more than 20 mins away from Gibsland, my comfort zone. Texas Southern, Jackson State, Alcon, and LSU were all schools that caught my eye. After being offered a partial scholarship to LSU, my mind was pretty much made up to go there. Maybe I could take my blackness and love for the culture and spread it at a PWI, but first I still had one more college tour left at Southern. I went to Southern not expecting much of anything. Soon as my mom and I crossed the hump into Southern’s campus, I felt at home. I felt like I had spent the day in an episode of A Different World. I knew by the end of that day, I was going to Southern. I loved Grambling but I had fallen in love with Southern and culture of Southern Louisiana. I still started my HBCU journey at Grambling due to attending Higher Ability (Summer before my Senior Year) and Project Upward Bound (Summer after my High school graduation). Going to both Grambling State and Southern University, definitely gave me the confidence and motivation to get where I am today. HBCUs will give you a quality education and definitely allow you to learn who you are as a person, that goes a long way and I’m living proof.
How did your HBCU shape you and impact your understanding of Black Culture?
My HBCU, Southern, just bettered my understanding of Black Culture. I grew up in and around black culture. My hometown was predominantly black, I have had more black teachers than any other race, I grew up singing Lift Every Voice and Sing, and I grew up learning from my grandparents (Prayerfully on Sept 15, my Grandmother will be 100). I always walked with pride knowing I came from a people of Greatness. When I got to Southern, it only made me walk taller and stronger. I’m proud of where I came from and I’m proud to be Black, Southern helped give me that joy and pride. When you know your history, you can walk in a room like you own it. When you know your history, you become unstoppable! I come from a community of people that built Coleman College, a gone but never forgotten HBCU, where Dr. J. S. Clark (a president of Southern University) graduated from. We all come from Greatness.
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?
One of the best decisions in my life was going to Southern University. When it comes to Marching Bands it doesn’t get any better than the Human Jukebox (just ask Grambling lol). Nothing better than SU Greek life. Fact, the RHO chapter of Phi Beta Sigma took the probate game in Fall 2008 up a level when our boys hit the yard! Blu Phi! All HBCUs feel like a big family reunion but Southern family ties go deep!
What do you say to people who believe HBCUs are not as good as Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)?
Besides saying a prayer for them, I can’t entertain that conversation. I think people who say that, wish they had gone to an HBCU and that’s the argument they bring up to feel good about themselves for attending a PWI.
"THE OPPORTUNITY TO AUDITION FOR DENZEL WASHINGTON AND HIS SCHOLARSHIP COMMITTEE TO OBTAIN A FULL SCHOLARSHIP TO MAJOR IN THEATRE ARTS! MAN WHAT A RIDE THAT WAS!"
Tell us what you wish everyone in the world knew about the HBCU experience.
The history behind HBCUs and why they were and still are necessary. I’m a firm believer in knowing and understanding your history. Everyone should know why HBCUs were founded and the hard work and dedication our ancestors went thru to establish them. When I step onto anything historically black, I pay homage to the ones who came before me because I know it took some blood, sweat, and tears; and the world needs to hear our story and hear about our experiences.
Tell us about your most memorable HBCU experiences. (Yes we in yo business, tell us about all of 'em!)
Hands down, my most memorable experience was when I pledged Phi Beta Sigma. The love you get from your peers and teachers is unmatched on an HBCU campus. They understand The divine nine, Greek life; so they going to show real love on any HBCU campus after you cross. The week after I crossed, I felt like “The Man”. Besides pledging the Best Fraternity on the best campus, my second most memorable experience was being on campus the night President Obama won the Presidency back in 2008. I was still staying on campus then, and I remember watching the results come in with some friends in the dorm. As soon as the news announced he had won, you could hear yells Thru the walls and car horns outside. Next thing you know everyone was outside laughing, dancing, celebrating, and shouting “My President is Black”. What a Time to be alive that night, I still get emotional thinking back to that night. Not only did I get to witness the election of the First Black President, I got to witness and experience it on an HBCU Campus!
Was it like Hillman on "A Different World"?
I didn’t experience any Hillman moments but it definitely was some “Stomp The Yards” days.
As any alumni will tell you, HBCUs are nurturing environments. What person(s) during your HBCU experience deserves some flowers and recognition?
The Late Dr. Troy Allen. We crossed paths my Junior year when I took him for Ancient Egypt. Dr. Allen taught his classes with authority and conviction, he made learning easy. All teachers had a open-door policy but Dr. Allen definitely didn’t mind going above and beyond to help you with anything. To this day, if someone says the Ancient Egyptians are not black, I refer back to something Dr. Allen taught me.
How are you using what you learned from them in your everyday life?
Not only did I learn this from Dr. Allen but other History professors- learn all I can. I learned to do my research that supports my views before I present or argue anything. Thanks to them, when I come to work, I stay ready. Treating everyone with compassion was something Dr. Allen and other professors helped instill in me because I saw them do it. In a time of trouble or misunderstanding, kindness and compassion go a long way.
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?
My prayer is that the future is bright for all HBCUs. I imagine enrollment increasing and more funding from the government. For all HBCUs, I hope they get the recognition they deserve. Recognition can include but is not limited to, better housing, updated classrooms, and expanding courses and majors. All in all, I hope that HBCUs continue to fight and be the best that they can be.