JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – The culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities has been amplified in mainstream media.
The idea of HBCU pride has been the focus of shows like a Different World, and was a running theme in Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance.
It can be entertaining to watch this culture unfold, and watch our favorite pop culture icons tell the story of the rich history and legacy of these schools. However, no one can tell the story of HBCU pride quite like the ones who have attended them.
And pride is a word that Jackson State University students and alumni hold synonymous with their prestigious institution.
Social media feeds were flooded with seas of blue and white when the Jackson State Tigers snagged a SWAC East title for the first time in eight years. However, the photos accompanied with the hashtag #theeIlove, only show a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Tiger.
To understand what this championship truly means to Jacksonians, one must view it from the standpoint of those who have cheered with the Tigers valiantly, as they prepared to make their comeback.
“I feel like where we are in this moment in time, we’re in a Jackson State Renaissance. It’s the rebirth of Jackson State University,” said proud JSU alumna Guyna G. Johnson.
While many become Tiger fans the moment they enter campus during their first year, Johnson’s love for her school runs deep. She proudly calls herself a “Legacy Jacksonian.”
Johnson’s parents, Walter and Dorothy Johnson graduated from the university (’66 and ‘65 respectively), and she decided to carry on the torch JSU pride when she entered the school in 1988.
Johnson’s collegiate experience was defined by a range of activities and life-defining events. In a snapshot, you may have found Johnson participating in community service events along with her sisters of the Delta Pi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, or participating in a student-sit in advocating for state funding.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life. It gave me the opportunity to grow at a time in my life when I didn’t have to focus on anything but academic excellence, which the school definitely supported.”
In reflecting on her undergraduate career, Johnson believes that JSU helped to cultivate her into the woman that she is today, resulting in her continued interest and support in the school. However, Johnson has been able to witness change firsthand, as she serves on the Board of Directors for the Jackson State University Development Foundation.
These elements of change and rebirth are common themes when Jacksonians reflect on how Jackson State is perceived now. Deion Sanders, affectionately known as “Coach Prime,” has been applauded by several outlets for his help and support in bringing Jackson State to the forefront of educational and athletic conversations. However, many stress that this is not the first time in which Jackson State’s prominence had taken a global setting.
For Johnson, this realization came when Jesse Jackson Sr. came to surprise students in the midst. However, for 1999 graduate Robert Rhymes, it was when he found himself in the midst of the famous Ayers case, as SGA president.
Rhymes wore many titles during his time at JSU. He was Mr. Sophomore and was initiated into the Upsilon Epsilon Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. However, his role as SGA president allows him to review and change under a different lens.
“We saw a lot of infrastructure change as a result of the Ayers case settlement, so to go back to Jackson State to see the beautiful buildings and the landscaped grounds is very inspiring,” said Rhymes.
“It brings an increased sense of pride and it gives me hope for the future as we continue on the path to progress. It’s very comforting to see your alma mater go forward and look great.”
It’s something that any alumnus hopes to see when they go back to visit their campuses, years after crossing the stage. But for Jackson State alumni, a change in infrastructure and a championship-bound team is not the only thing that keeps them coming back year after year.
Rhymes explains that many HBCUs are relatively small, thus creating a sense of community and family. However, the size of the Tiger family has recently been magnified when Jackson State reported its largest homecoming crowd in school history.
“Everybody knows everybody. So almost every day feels like you’re at a family reunion. “It really creates this comradery and family atmosphere,” explained Rhymes.
“It’s about the legacy and the loyalty and the pride in which Jacksonians walk. We’re part of a family and an extended network,” said Johnson.
As with many families, good news travels fast. So it wouldn’t be long before current students and alumni alike were on one accord, heightening and amplifying their sense of JSU Pride, when it was announced that the Tigers were SWAC East champions.
“Diehard Jacksonians, we never lost faith. We knew that one day we would be back, and I am happy that today is that,” Rhymes shares as he proudly sports a JSU jersey.
“There is such an electricity in the air from the alignment of talent, discipline, and leadership. I think when you combine with the hopes and dreams of the citizens, it is nothing short of miraculous. I am elated to be in a community such as Jackson State University,” Johnson adds.
Both Johnson and Rhymes note that this sense of pride was not an act of restoration, nor was it newly formed, rather it was intensified, and they believe it was a result of Sanders’ leadership.
“You can’t turn on a TV now without seeing Coach Prime, and people are associating Jackson State with him,” Rhymes said.
Rhymes says long gone are the times when he would assert that he was a product of JSU and people would meet him with puzzled looks and a long progression linking Mississippi to Walter Payton.
“Now nobody asks any questions about Jackson State. Now they know.”
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