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  • My Degree Is Black

Xav Handfield | Bethune-Cookman | '09

Welcome to the MDIB Yard Xav Handfield!

Reppin': Bethune-Cookman University

Grad: 2009

Major: Mass Communications (PR/Advertising)

Occupation: Motivational Speaker | Health & Wellness Influencer

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

I am a 3rd generation Bethune-Cookman Wildcat. As a child, I would come to the campus to visit, I saw that my cousin was part of our world-famous marching band, which I would later become a member of, and a lot of my cousins were alums. I only applied to one school, and not because I had to, because my grades were good enough to go to any school I wanted, but because I wanted to carry the tradition and family legacy of being a Wildcat, and become an HBCU alumnus. The schools I attended during my childhood weren't that diverse, so I wanted to experience the feeling of being the majority for ONCE in my life. As of most recently, attending my HBCU was divinely ordered because my now fiancée, soon-to-be wife, also attended The Great Bethune-Cookman University. My life is truly a continual full-circle moment.

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

My HBCU shaped me to be someone who advocated for myself, to network with people that looked like me and those who didn't. I grew into more of a leader, and someone that was able to work with different types of people, yet respect their viewpoints, even if I didn't agree with them. The impact of understanding Black Culture was something that I noticed immediately. I began to meet people who have various accents, socio-economic backgrounds, understanding and upbringing, quirks, and more and appreciated that although my friends and bubble maybe this way, there is a larger world out there, that exposed me to the beauty of the diaspora, and the need for connecting the beauty of us all, regardless of where we were born.

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?

MY HBCU was founded by the G.O.A.T. herself, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She was born 15 of 17 children in South Carolina and believed in education so much that she was one of the few within her family to get an education. She created her school in Daytona which served as a safe haven for black entertainers back in the day, and she was best friends with the President of the United States wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. She was in rooms that were unheard of during that time for not only black people but for women as well! Lastly, our school is located a few miles from the beach, with nearly perfect weather year-round. What started on the city dump, with $1.50, 5 little girls, a sweet potato pie recipe, and a prayer/dream have grown to be an institution with some of the brightest minds have walked, that houses the greatest band known to man, the Marching Wildcats, and with a passionate student body that breathes life into the city of Daytona Beach.

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

I would say they are ignorant, respectfully. WE don't compare apples and oranges around here, and like Abe Lincoln said: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt." This goes for HBCU alums that have disparaging things to say about their school or others, and individuals who are Hatin' from outside the club. "Bruh you can't even get in."


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

I wish everyone in the world knew that HBCUs are not merely institutions of higher learning that have educated black people and the like for over a century, but the place where black intellect is fostered, protected and respected. The HBCU experience isn't a monolithic experience whereas just because someone attends an HBCU that they're all the same. Culturally, and understandably, one of our schools in Mississippi will be incredibly different than one of our schools in Maryland. HBCUs are America's schools, and what I mean by that is that the preservation of these dynamic schools is only because we stand on the shoulders of prolific African-American scholars, leaders, and disruptors. Our schools have grown to reach heights and have a caliber of students that is truly going to be prepared for the "real world" which is a misnomer that misinformed individuals proclaim can't take place at an HBCU.

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

My Most memorable HBCU memories are: Homecoming 2005 was my freshman year, and my cousin was the Homecoming Grand Marshall, so a large number of family members came up to see us, and as a crab in the band, I couldn't talk but on the inside I was ecstatic. My first Florida Classic, and thinking about marching on the fields and hearing over 60,000 people chant "Let's Go Wildcats" still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Also, winning Mr. Homecoming my senior year. Campaigning, the pageant, the parade/game, and my family coming to support me were truly one of my most treasured moments. Lastly, pledging Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. my junior year was special because I had 20 other brothers who brought our chapter back to the yard after about 3 years. The campus was buzzing and we got a lot of attention, which is what we NUPES require.

Was it like Hillman on "A Different World"?

It definitely was like Hillman on "A different world" to me. There were amazing professors, clubs, and organizations galore, untraditional students, and even food places that everyone would frequent, like Bethune Grill. Albeit, we are a small private school we truly had some characters and some of the dopest, most creative young adults that I've ever encountered in my life. Like Whitley Gilbert, I too, went to the same school as my grandfather and he would share his experiences, and I couldn't wait to join the ranks as a student that he spoke so highly of. HBCUs feel like a family, that environment is second to none, and that was what I got from "A Different World." I was blessed enough to attend college simultaneously with my twin sister, and four other cousins!

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

I would definitely have to say my advisor for my major, Dr. Camesha Whittaker, who didn't just pass me, didn't allow me to settle for mediocrity, and truly taught her students with a love for Public relations. Also, I would have to say Ms. Carla Lester who taught intro to Public Speaking. I can wholeheartedly say that class changed my life. As someone who grew up speaking for youth day at church, and was pretty outgoing I knew I had the gift and skill of public speaking, but my confidence wasn't there, until after I completed that course.

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

I think it's the mistakes that I've made of not applying myself when necessary, and how procrastination in college can set the tone for how you view projects and life moving forward really have humbled me the most. I learned to surround myself with mentors and doing great in their field, and who are smarter than me, but making sure I am in the room will always be a necessary factor. Lastly, being able to have my 60-second personal elevator pitch of who I am, what I do, how I can offer value, and how great it would be if we collaborated, will always be a transferable skill that I received from my alma mater. "Enter to Learn and Depart to Serve" Service is the price that we pay for the space we occupy on this planet. I heard that quote so long ago, and believe that I will always be surrounded by excellence and serving others.

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?

What I imagine for the future of HBCUs is equity. Equity with funding and speaks to PWIs and the five HBCUs that are ALWAYS getting funding. Also, I want HBCUs to create a better pipeline with secondary schools in places like the west coast, the Midwest, etc. where there are black students who have never formally heard of an HBCU before.

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