Shawn Ducre-Jackson | Prairie View A&M University | '02
Welcome to the MDIB Yard Shawn Ducre-Jackson!
Reppin': Prairie View A&M University
Occupation: Creator/Writer of UnwaveringlyBLACK Trivia
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 is one of legacy and inevitability. Both of my parents, my sister, and countless aunties, uncles and cousins all attended HBCUs. More specifically, they attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. So, it was never a conversation with my parents of whether I’d attend college, but which historically BLACK university will we be driving you to in the fall? Southern was the family tradition, but one of my main criteria for any school I attended was that it needed to be far enough away from home that my folks had to call before they came. Southern did not meet that standard, so for that reason and others (more on that later) it was a hard pass. But, I was raised on blue and gold, and some of my favorite memories are attending the Bayou Classic and the Battle of the Bands. I had the honor of being offered full academic scholarships to several universities, including PWIs, but it came down to FAMU or PV. Let me tell y’all what the deciding factor was: a car. At the time, PV allowed incoming freshmen to have a car and FAMU did not. So characteristic of a 17 year old with underdeveloped decision-making skills, I chose PV solely for that reason. But, there are no coincidences and my path was predestined. So, I was PVU bound in August 1998.
How did your HBCU shape you and impact your understanding of Black Culture?
To say that PV “shaped” or “impacted” my understanding of Black culture feels somewhat inadequate. Attending an HBCU granted me the ability to access a version of Blackness that I never knew existed. I don’t believe that I’d become this fully realized version of myself without leaving home, moving to TX and attending PV. Growing up in small towns in Mississippi and Louisiana, whiteness was both the apex and the default. Racism was overt, yet subtle and things functioned in a manner that I knew wasn’t right, but also felt I had no power to change. “We can’t do what they do” was the conveyed message to manage our expectations and ensure our protection. So, when I arrived in Prairie View, TX and saw these beautiful Black people with natural hair, different religions and life experiences, representing the entire diaspora (a word I was completely unfamiliar with at the time), it quickly and deeply planted a seed. Do you know what that does to your spirit to be celebrated and centered and not have to explain, switch up your speaking voice or count the number of Black folks in a room? Even if I didn’t fully recognize it, the intentionality that I have for my people and its connection to the alignment of my purpose began there.
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?
Prairie View Produces Productive People! Do the kids still say that?! That was the official mantra, but as we oldhead alumni know, PV Youuuuuuu Knoooooooow or PVUUUUUUU (insert expletive) are the unofficial altar calls! I also like to say that I brought good juju with me when I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1998. This ain’t quite a flex, but prior to September ‘98, we’d lost 80 consecutive football games in a row. We beat Langston a month after my arrival, so while I know I can’t take credit, I will! Also, you can’t tell me that fight scene in Drumline wasn’t based on the PV vs Southern band fight, which occurred literally a week before we finally won that game! Whew, what a time.
What do you say to people who believe HBCUs are not as good as Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)?
Anytime the HBCU vs PWI conversation comes up, ironically with other Black people, I respectfully challenge why we are still equating whiteness with superiority. I also ask them to support their misconceived argument with facts. And if any of their facts include insurmountable student loan debt they’ve amassed from attending a PWI, our conversation usually takes an uncomfortable turn. I’m passionate about financial literacy and building Black wealth, and if my degree hangs on the wall the same as yours, but without $1000 monthly loan payments, who’s at an advantage and who’s not? Once we get past that layer, I like to go deeper and share the invaluable cultural impact that I don’t believe a PWI can offer at all, or not to the same degree (no pun) as an HBCU.
"ATTENDING AN HBCU GRANTED ME THE ABILITY TO ACCESS A VERSION OF BLACKNESS THAT I NEVER KNEW EXISTED."
Tell us about your most memorable HBCU experiences. (Yes we in yo business, tell us about all of 'em!)
Whew, it’s been almost 21 years since I graduated, so some things are fuzzy from the passage of time, and others we gon’ leave right where we left them because almost nothing can be proven! But, I remember we tore down the goalposts after breaking that 80-game losing streak and I think school was canceled the next day. But, my time was mostly a beautiful collage of all the little things: the Baby Dome parties, fighting for a parking spot in Hobart, TX, figuring out through trial and error which dryers would light your clothes on fire in the washateria, cooking in my apartment in Phase 3, the basketball games in Phase 1, that nasty KFC and Taco Bell in MSC and the best late nights and conversations with friends. As I sit here and sift through memories, there aren’t many crazy stories, but a collection of all the small moments that make me miss it the most.
Was it like Hillman on "A Different World"?
Were the professors like Hillman? Yes. But overall? Nah, not really. I ain’t live that dorm and shared bathroom life and mostly due to my introversion, I rarely hung out in Alumni or MSC, which would be the equivalent of The Pit. It was more like The Best Man if it were filmed when they were actually in college. My group of friends closely resembled the characters in that movie.
As any alumni will tell you, HBCUs are nurturing environments. What person(s) during your HBCU experience deserves some flowers and recognition?
Ms. Ann Johnson aka Ms. J deserves all the flowers! The newly accessible version of Blackness that I previously referenced?! It was largely her influence. She’s a gifted artist, so she introduced me to the world of Black art. She’d play The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album to stoke our creativity while we worked in class. She took us on cultural experiences to the Shrine of the Black Madonna and Project Row Houses in Houston. I tried Jamaican food for the first time when she took us to Reggae Hut. We took trips to Atlanta and Vegas for fashion conferences. At the time, I didn’t know how special and out of the norm it was for a professor to be so invested in her students. She expanded both my mind and palate and I’m eternally grateful.
How are you using what you learned from them in your everyday life?
My superpower is knowledge — I have an innate desire and capacity to learn, and I am unselfish in sharing what I know. I love to learn through words and books, but she also allowed me to see the value in experiences. I have a spirit of wonder whether it’s exploring the limitless options right here in Houston or engrossing myself in another culture halfway across the world. There’s always a lesson, always a new perspective to be gained. I do my best to impart that wisdom and wanderlust into the next generation.
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?
I imagine a future for HBCUs where we’re stronger and more strategic in having the right people allocating and managing financial resources. Everything is connected and it’s largely tethered to financial literacy. Follow me. Individuals who don’t understand how to budget $2000 at home find themselves in roles where they absolutely don’t have the ability to effectively budget $20 million at an HBCU. Additionally, less student loan debt and increased discretionary income can clear the way for stronger alumni support. We may not have the same endowments as PWIs, but more often, it’s not about how much you have but how well you use it. I’m also gonna say the thing you aren’t supposed to say: in some ways we need to gatekeep. We have a rich history, and while we want to attract talent of all races, it shouldn’t be at the expense of allowing others to appropriate, rename and remarket our traditions and present them as their own. We need to be constantly reminded of the reason why HBCUs exist and be intentional about preserving that legacy. We ain’t handing out cookout passes in 2023 and beyond.