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If y’all are not paying attention to historically Black colleges and universities right now, you’re truly missing out.
Of course, HBCUs should be getting this much spotlight and support 365 days of the year. But one Mississippi HBCU, Jackson State University, has been burning up the headlines. This is due to the persistence of JSU’s head coach, Deion Sanders, AKA Coach Prime, who shooketh the college football world by flipping the nation’s top recruit, Travis Hunter, from Florida State University to JSU.
The HBCU community celebrated. Some PWI coaches stirred the hater-rade (side-eyes Clemson University).
This is all happening just days before the Celebration Bowl, the postseason game where the champions of the nation’s two prominent HBCU football conferences – the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) – battle it out. This Saturday, JSU squares off with South Carolina State University in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. To add to the hype, the two teams will be playing in from of a sold-out crowd for the first time since the Celebration Bowl’s debut in 2015.
If you’re watching the Celebration Bowl – either in Atlanta or from the comfy arena of your own home –we want to hear from you! Show us how you spread the Black Joy on game day by emailing me your videos and photos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can look up @reckonsouth on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and send us a DM.
As we wait for kickoff, how about you pass this newsletter along to a few of your friends so they can learn about all the greatness coming from southern HBCUs.
Giver Black inventors space (no, for real)
For Grambling State University alumna Janeya Griffin, the final frontier isn’t space, but equity.
Sis has spent the past eight years as a NASA technology transfer specialist. To put it simply, she managed NASA’s intellectual property, like patents, and found commercial properties that were interested in using NASA’s ideas for more earthly inventions, such as memory foam and baby formula. Since 2019, she has been using those same skills to help Black inventors build wealth off their own intellectual property as “The Commercializer.”
Black and brown entrepreneurs don’t have to be astronauts to get into the space game. Janeya points out that NASA has developed a trend by leaning on private companies to help with missions. Example: NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk’s company Space X to build a human lander that will charter astronauts to and from the moon. Building a sustainable presence on the moon is part of NASA’s ultimate plan to land on Mars.
Janeya wants to help Black-owned companies to snatch up some of these contracts.
“I don’t want us to be on another planet still begging for diversity, equity and inclusion,” Janeya said. “We need some Black-owned businesses to get space contracts and give Space X and Blue Origin a run for their money.”
The U.S. patent system wasn’t engineered with Black people in mind. From 1976 to 2008, Black inventors were awarded six patents per 1 million people, compared to 235 patents per 1 million for all U.S. inventors. Janeya is leading the way in fixing this issue. She explained to U.S. Congress members how they can help diversify the patent system. Porche recognized Janeya as one of several innovators who are pioneering cultural shifts in their fields.
Along with being “The Commercializer,” Janeya also co-founded ConCreates, a creative agency powered by formerly and currently incarcerated people. As the daughter of formerly incarcerated parents, Janeya witnessed how a charge could hurt someone’s job prospects and mental health. She said her mother battled depression due to her not being able to land a job. But through ConCreates, those with a criminal background can work on major projects (such as this TBS docuseries called “The Real O.G.s.”) while learning about the value of intellectual property and how to negotiate ownership of that property.
“I always say that the freedom is in the ownership,” Janeya said “When you own it, then you get to control it. That’s your legacy. So you get to dictate what happens. You don’t have to ask for a seat at the table because it’s your table.”
Janeya thanks Grambling State for putting her on the path to success. Which is funny considering she didn’t know anything about HBCUs during high school.
But her cousin/ high school track coach was a Grambling State alumna who made the entire track team to apply her alma mater. What ultimately secured her decision to move halfway across the country to attend a HBCU in Louisiana was the atmosphere. At Grambling State, she wasn’t just part of a student body. She was part of a family where the professors get to know students on a personal level.
That familial care really came in handy for Janeya a little before graduating in 2010 with a double major in criminal justice and chemistry. After completing internships at two crime scene investigation labs, she wasn’t sure if she was on the right track for her career. But she knew she wanted to do something with a goof impact.
It was the dean of her school, Dr. Danny Hubbard, gave her a hint by telling her that he didn’t think she could have a boss. He pushed her to apply for a paid fellowship for HBCU STEM students called the Integrated Technology Transfer Network at California State University, San Bernardino. During this program, Janeya learned the technology and business knowledge that she used during her role at NASA, which then gave her the insight she needed to help others navigate the intellectual property world.
And this was all because a professor saw something that she didn’t see in herself.
“He saw the entrepreneur in me, by telling me ‘I don’t think you can have a boss,’” Janeya said. “He was saying, ‘You don’t need to be going out and trying to find a job. Like, go do this. So, that’s what I did and now here I am: a serial entrepreneur.”
Attending Grambling State for five years was Janeya’s longest stint in the South. Born in Los Angeles, Janeya was raised in Little Rock, Calif. But don’t get it twisted, she said. The roots of her family are in Meridian, Miss. While they packed their bags for west coast living, the culture of hunting and fishing came with them.
“We brought the country to California,” Janeya said.
It’s the South that helped mold her career both through joy and academically. Janeya still vividly remembers the turn up that happened after former President Barack Obama won his first election in 2008. Students poured onto campus to celebrate and dance. Shouts filled the air. Music boomed from cars that couldn’t move because the streets were so packed with people. Janeya said the atmosphere cleansed them of all the racial mess that surrounded the election of the nation’s first Black president.
“It was a lot going on, but in that moment, during those celebrations, all of that stuff went away,” she said. “Nobody was thinking about that. Everybody was just celebrating this win in history for us.”
Janeya hopes that the stigmas HBCUs face will soon be alleviated. Despite her success, she still catches herself in moments where she feels like people are comparing her abilities to Yale and Harvard grads.
“That happens on a regular basis, all the time. So not even just with our families, but like, even in jobs, when they’re looking at our resumes and wonder, ‘Oh, what school did you come from?’” she said. “So, I think there’s definitely a misconception because a lot of the Black people who are in high positions – a lot of them are HBCUs graduates. Like, HBCUs graduate the most PhDs, the most doctors, the most lawyers. Our excellence comes from HBCUs.”
Spread that HBCU love
Now that you have heard plenty about one HBCU grad, here are two ways you can support these institutions and their alumni:
- Spread those coins: Dominique King, a Howard University alumna based in Atlanta, is helping HBCUs expand their donor base after creating the I Heart My HBCU app. The app rounds your credit and debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and then donates the spare change to five HBCUs of your choice.
- Take a sip of Black history: If you’re in or near Opelika, Ala., you should check out Melanin Café. The town’s first black-owned coffee shop is operated by Alabama A&M alumnus Jakyra Hixon and his wife Catrice. All of Melanin Café’s coffees, teas, smoothies, etc. are named after a Black historical figure place or fact. The Hixons said they wanted people to get in touch with their local Black history.
Whether you are rooting for the JSU Tigers or the SC State Bulldogs, spread as much Black Joy as you can this weekend. See you next time!