Going to school in the Atlanta University Center (AUC), specifically Clark Atlanta University, was one of the best decisions for my life. Growing up in Pittsburgh before moving to Tallahassee, Florida, in 2014, I did not know much about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the significance of these institutions.
After moving to Tallahassee, I was introduced to Florida A&M University, which was my first encounter with an HBCU. As I grew up, I learned about the Rattlers’ culture, the legendary homecoming, African American Greek-letter fraternities and sororities, and the Black history that stems from them.
After seeing all this, I knew that I was going to attend one. My only two college choices were Clark Atlanta and FAMU, and I chose CAU after graduating from high school in 2017. Being in the AUC consortium with Spelman College and Morehouse College has taught me even more about my Black history. I didn’t know about Lonnie C. King Jr., a Morehouse College graduate and civil rights leader, and how he started the Atlanta Student Movement to end legal segregation. It’s truly inspirational to me.
Reading how King and Julian Bond, another Morehouse graduate and civil rights icon, and so many others overcame the hardships they faced as students lifts me up. How King’s peers chose him to speak on how the Negro community needed to come together to end segregation in Atlanta made me so much more appreciative, because without those students fighting against racism while going to school, I would not be where I am today.
King’s efforts in the Atlanta Student Movement, inspired by The A&T Four, impacted racial progress not only in Atlanta, but nationally. Black property owners put up bonds to get sit-in demonstrators released from jail, and it helped bring a younger generation of leaders to the forefront to fight segregation. On Nov. 1, 2010, a street that cuts through the campus of Clark Atlanta University was officially named Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard. The ceremony was hosted by then-mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed.
Knowing that I have walked to class on the same ground as some of the biggest pioneers in American history who attended these AUC institutions – James Weldon Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, film director Spike Lee, newly elected U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock and civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy, to only name a few – is a surreal feeling, to say the least.
Every year during the weekend of MLK Day, there is a march from downtown Atlanta to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached. Last year, I was able to march with students from school and my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and stepped with my chapter. Becoming a member of the fraternity, which was the first intercollegiate African American fraternity, in fall 2018 was a very special moment for me, and pledging at an HBCU made it even more meaningful.
It brought me even closer to my Black history, knowing that I am a fraternity brother with men such as Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first African American associate justice, Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta, and Eddie Robinson, the third-winningest coach in NCAA football history. Seeing Warnock, my fraternity brother and Morehouse College graduate, become the first African American senator from Georgia shows me that anything is possible. Seeing how Abrams, a Spelman College graduate, boosted voter turnout to help make Georgia a blue state for the first time since 1992, showed me what resiliency looks like.
Most people are surprised by what these AUC graduates did, but I wasn’t at all. Being a student at Clark Atlanta and in the AUC taught me how to “find a way or make one,” which is Clark Atlanta’s motto. I am forever grateful for my AUC experience because I would not be the man I am today or the man I will become without it.
Ashton Edmunds, a senior mass media arts major from Tallahassee, Florida, is the sports editor for The CAU Panther newspaper, an intern for The Atlanta Voice/Voice News Network and also an inaugural Turner Diversity Fellow at WarnerMedia.