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It's Black History Month, and NPR's Ayesha Rascoe talks about HBCUs

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Thursday, February 8, 2024 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, February 8, 2024 - 8:56am

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It's Black History Month.

In this conversation with KJZZ's Tom Maxedon, NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" and "Up First" podcast host Ayesha Rascoe talks with him about a new collection of essays she edited, "HBCU Made: A Celebration of the Black College Experience."

This portion of the conversation began with Rascoe discussing how her life was shaped by her time as a student at Howard University.

Mike Morgan/NPR
NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

AYESHA RASCOE: I can't even imagine what it would have been like if I didn't go to Howard. Going to Howard really shaped my life. Howard is the reason why I got my first journalism job at Reuters. There was a business reporting class at Howard that was run by Reuters. And that's how they even learned about me.

I worked on the student newspaper, “The Hilltop,” eventually becoming editor in chief in my senior year. And the things that I learned there, I still bring with me today.

I feel like Howard is a place where you have to come correct because people will call you out. And, so I learned that that was drilled into me and I take it with me wherever I go. It really was a pivotal decision in my life.

TOM MAXEDON: This book of essays includes contributions from such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, former Georgia state Rep. and of course gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and also saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis. Firstly, what attracts you to the essay as a form of writing and what's your opinion on what makes a good one?

RASCOE: Branford Marsalis’ essay is a great example of this when they really sound like the person is just telling you a story. They're able to tell it to you in their own voice. I mean, Branford Marsalis was talking about, you know, growing up in New Orleans and how, look, everybody played music. That wasn't anything new. But then he also talks about going to Southern, and like learning about the marching style, getting into it with some of the other people in the band.

You just get these rich stories. I think what makes a great essay is when you can really feel like the person is just sitting down, and they are telling you what they went through and their story. I think that's always fun.

MAXEDON: Yeah, and it’s emotive, right? You're gonna laugh. You might even cry in some cases?

RASCOE: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I definitely cried a few times, because you hear some people like Lea Leoneda Inge, who is actually a journalist and works for public radio in North Carolina. She tells a beautiful story about her father, who was also a FAMU graduate like her, who passes away. It's just a beautiful story about homecomings, and also loss and legacy. I just feel like it's one of those things that you get out of this book.

MAXEDON: How did you make your choices for the essays that you wanted to edit and include?

RASCOE: I wanted to have a wide range of essays from people from different generations. I wanted someone who was younger, who was just coming out of an HBCU.

Brandon Gilpin of Morehouse College. He's an actor, and he just graduated like a year or two ago.

And obviously, you know, if you can get Oprah in your book, I think you should. But, everyone has a great story to tell.

MAXEDON: Well speaking of that, what story would you tell a young black girl who wants to go to college? And what advice would you give her?

RASCOE: Oh, wow. That's a great question. I would tell her my own story, because that's the one I know the best. But I would tell her, you know, I went to Howard as a very shy, introverted girl who didn't have a social life. And what I learned there was about how to stand on my own authority and to trust my own voice. It did not happen overnight. But I feel like the seeds were really planted, that I now see the growth. You know, I see the fruits of those seeds. Today, the woman that you see today is able to stand and be confident, and to speak with authority. And so if I can do it, you can do it too. That's what I would say. Like whatever it is. And not that you will be like me, but that you will be the best version of yourself.

MAXEDON: Ayesha Rascoe is NPR’s "Weekend Edition Sunday" and "Up First" podcast host. You're the editor of “HBCU Made: A Celebration of the Black College Experience,” out now. Ayesha, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you so much. I'm so glad to do it.

Algonquin Books
NPR's Ayesha Rasco is "Weekend Edition" and "Up First" podcast host as well as the editor of "HBCU Made: A Celebration of the Black College Experience" (2024).

NOTE: This interview was excerpted from KJZZ's Word podcast about literature hosted by Tom Maxedon. Check out the full convo on the Season 11 launch episode.

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