Thirteen years in public school. Years of bad lunch, eating cardboard pizza crust smothered in Elmer’s glue — I mean tomato paste. Years of the funniest lunch table discussions, despite the unappealing cuisine. Years relishing my English and history classes and dreading math period.
A time when what are trifles today meant all the world to me then. A time when a 500-word essay rubric looked daunting and gave me cold sweats. Dozens of teachers ranging in likeability, but all taught me lessons on life. Many friends made and fewer friendships survived. Years building my character.
I flipped that tassel and took a moment to celebrate my accomplishment. It was time to go to the school up north.
Early in my time on campus, I anxiously waited for my dorm roommate’s arrival. I didn’t have a sliver of information about the guy. No clue whatsoever. All I could see on the housing portal was his name and school email. I even went as far as to email him just to get a sense of who I’d be staying with. Seventeen-year-olds enjoying the summer before moving off for college aren’t checking their email much. When a Black kid wearing his hair in plaits walked into my room, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. This is a guy who likes the same music as me, comes from a similar background and ultimately understands Black issues. Someone I can be comfortable around and vice versa.
The chances I would land this roommate at a school like Ole Miss? The chances I’d live with a brother? It felt like I hit the roommate lottery. He also was just a respectful roommate all around, shout out to you. I knew we would be on the same page for the most part.
Hard stop: A school like Ole Miss? That was my first mistake; singling and unfairly categorizing the university. It was honest, though. Much of what I had learned about the school was negative history. I mean, the first mention of the class in the curriculum was during my ninth-grade Mississippi studies course detailing riots on campus in 1962, during James Meredith’s integration.
Even then I had two sisters who would go on to attend the university and a family that lived in Mississippi for most of their lives.
How was my perception so warped? My mom always said I was hard-headed.
I heard the college testimonies about the experience, the good times and blah blah blah. It’s something that you wouldn’t know until you’ve seen it for yourself. Words do not do it nearly enough justice. It’s the last time in life that you’re almost exclusively surrounded by people your age. Even that part hasn’t processed for me yet. I’ll write a response to this in 10 years.
What I really did not anticipate was the Black life on campus. It sounds so divisive putting it that way. That’s the reality, though. We don’t sequester ourselves and try to be difficult or anti-social. It’s just, we are attracted to one another. We know each other. We nurture a community together. We share these experiences together.
Being Black on campus has certainly affected and influenced my time at Ole Miss in a positive way. Obviously, there are bumps in the road because the job’s not finished. I know that all too well, serving as the university’s NAACP vice president. I’ve been put in a position where I interact with members from across the state. I hear sentiments of gratitude and appreciation for the community we have all worked to maintain. It’s a beautiful dynamic.
Much of the Black history here on campus, and nationwide, happened within our parent’s lifetime, so a lot of these people, these legends, are still around. It’s different from most of what you learn in “typical” history class, as those individuals are long gone. Here in Oxford, you are liable to see Don Cole in Kroger on a random afternoon. These are people who have dedicated their life’s work towards improving the world for future generations.
All of these stories are within arms reach for most students here on campus. Take advantage of the Black history around you, but not only in February. Take a look back and see how far we’ve come. Celebrate the stories, whether they be positive or negative. Celebrate the students, the staff and everything else that calls for praise. Happy Black History Month!
Justice Rose is the opinion editor from Madison, Mississippi. He is a sophomore journalism major.