From Bowie to the Big Easy, embracing my HBCU experience at Xavier University — Andscape
As the confetti fell at the end of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, I took a moment to reflect on this amazing year as a student and Rhoden Fellow. While working at some of the biggest basketball events this year, I’ve been able to meet some remarkable people and learn more about the sports industry.
When I initially went to Xavier University of Louisiana, I just wanted to get away from Bowie, Maryland, my hometown. If I had been a standout basketball recruit, my crystal ball college prediction would have been Howard University or Duke University. However, after an official visit to Xavier and an informative tour during my senior year of high school, I decided to commit and go to the Big Easy.
My journey wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. I started college as a biology major with hopes to host a nature show one day. Things didn’t exactly go my way as I had trouble adjusting to my new environment and being away from home. I ended my first semester on academic probation, lacking the passion and joy needed to succeed. I decided to switch my major to mass communications and pursue my interest in sports.
Changing my major was the best decision of my life. I met my mentor, professor Varion Laurent, who gave me the opportunity to do postgame interviews of our basketball teams and helped me develop new skills. In retrospect, I didn’t do a good job with my first interview with an athlete, but it gave me a sense of achievement I hadn’t felt yet in college.
As time passed, I became one of his best interviewers, winning high praise for my thought-provoking questions and natural connection with the athletes. With help from some of the older students in the department, such as Langston Fulmore and La’Shance Perry, I began polishing my skills and became a better editor as well. Along with my partners, Jerin Minor and Faith Lamelle, we became a staple on campus for our sports interviews.
Honestly, I had never really considered journalism as a potential career. I always found it more interesting being in front of a camera or pulling clips to create a news package. However, some of my class requirements included having articles published in local newspapers, and those assignments made me realize telling a story was something I truly enjoyed.
This year, with the help of my friends Dionysius Morris, Zora Thomas and Phil Thomas, we created content similar to ESPN’s popular SportsCenter program. The show, Me, You and XU, not only highlighted Xavier’s games but other teams and news in the Red River Athletic Conference.
Outside the classroom, being at Xavier has been an amazing experience despite having to leave campus midway through my freshman year due to the coronavirus pandemic; I also had a month off from school during Hurricane Ida in 2021. I was able to immerse myself in Louisiana culture by attending my first Mardi Gras – and creating an extensive bead collection. I made lifelong friendships, appreciated the pageantry of homecoming at a historically Black college and obtained career development skills.
Now, I’d like to focus on being a Rhoden Fellow, the opportunity of a lifetime. From the moment I received the first phone call to the present day, I am beyond grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish at Andscape.
The summer of 2022 was the training phase, and it showed me I had a long road ahead before I could call myself a journalist. From long days of Zoom meetings to working closely with my assigned editor, I slowly began to learn the fundamentals of journalism.
Fellowship leader William Rhoden took our class to the Baltimore Ravens’ and Washington Commanders’ training camps, where I was able to meet people on a career path I had developed an interest in — video coordinators. A lesson he taught us early has stuck with me: “It doesn’t matter how many awards you won or how good you wrote if you don’t treat people kindly and have genuine character.”
As the fall semester drew near, I was excited to work on a basketball story. I wrote a slam dunk of an article that was featured on the Andscape homepage, which drew a lot of support from my peers. It was the motivation I needed to keep going. The article, which spotlighted The Basketball Tournament at New York’s Rucker Park, featured several former college all-stars and pro players. The highlight for me was being able to interview some of the HBCUnited team, which is composed of current and former HBCU standouts.
Upon returning to campus, I wrote a story about the Atlanta Hawks partnering with music producer Mr. Hanky to increase the team’s fan experience. It was helpful to work with an NBA team as it nurtured a professional connection with some of the Hawks staff and foreshadowed an opportunity I would have in February.
That fall, I also got a chance to interview North Carolina Central University quarterback Davius Richard, who is not only an outstanding player and Celebration Bowl champion but a leader in his Florida community. Showcasing the humanity of athletes has been a rewarding aspect of the interview process.
The start of 2023 included a string of good luck and new opportunities. I consider myself a “hoop junkie” and basketball encyclopedia. After an interview with the NBA’s communications team, I was blessed to participate in the league’s HBCU Event Shadow internship in February.
This was one of the top moments in my 21 years of life! From bonding with league representatives Brandon Gassaway and Kelsey Boyd to meeting executive vice president and chief communications officer Mike Bass, I was welcomed with open arms. I oversaw the escorting of the Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and the Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, which was a surreal experience. Lillard shared a quote with me that I now live by: “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”
During that internship, I also got to meet my idol – and Prince George’s County, Maryland, legend – Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns. All those experiences affirmed that I belonged and eventually will make it in this industry.
In March, I had a chance to go to Madison Square Garden as an intern with the Big East Conference, where I managed postgame interviews; I even got to ask Marquette University basketball coach Shaka Smart a question. This was my most hands-on experience by far and a perfect way to end the traveling portion of the Rhoden Fellowship.
Overall, this fellowship has done so much for me as an aspiring journalist. I’ve gained mentors such as Kimberly Jarvis, the fellowship’s general editor and coordinator, who scheduled weekly meetings to offer life advice and help me understand journalism; HBCU reporter Mia Berry, a phenomenal writer (who unfortunately roots for the Detroit Pistons); former Rhoden Fellow Alexis Davis, who is currently enrolled at Arizona State University; and Mr. Rhoden himself, who is paving a way for HBCU students to have a chance in this industry.
As the confetti fell at the NCAA championship game, I could only step back, take in the moment and smile. As Grammy Award-winning rapper Drake once said, “You never know, it could happen to you.”