Visiting The White House, When HBCU Rivals Meet & Stranded In DC

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Friday, 9/29/17, 8:15 AM

Boy, ever since I’ve gotten back from Washington DC I’ve been busy. From interviews with guests coming on FVSU’s campus, mid-terms, my web series and planning out a documentary that I will start shooting for at the start of October, I’ve barely had time to do anything. Well, I have been sleeping. I wake up early to write but I’ve been getting to sleep at at least 11:45 every night. I just haven’t found the time to write this final journal entry of my third day in the nation’s capitol.

I honestly thought about skipping it. I mean, I’m writing this as I’m on the way to New Orleans to see FVSU play Southern University in Football for the first time in eight years (sadly losing 55-33 in 2009). I have my rented out Sony DSLR camera on deck, ready to get my millennial Spike Lee skills in order. A mini-documentary on my time in New Orleans is better than an article about a trip that happened almost two weeks ago right?

I had to do this third journal entry though. So much happened this third day that must be documented and shared. This Tuesday was the day that I got a chance to visit the Smithsonian National African-American Museum and then the White House (the East Wing at least). This was the last day that the All-Stars would be collectively gathered together. Also, this was the day that I almost got stranded in DC after missing my shuttle. That’s an interesting story for you boy!

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So much happened that morning that I don’t even know where to start! Well, my roommate Ato and I checked out at the receptionist desk before going over to the Hilton hotel across the street to get breakfast and board the shuttle bus to the Smithsonian African American Museum. We get to the receptionist desk and I found out that I’d been charged for my wi-fi usage after I talked to another receptionist Sunday when we got in about the free package! The worst part was that the $13.95 charged bounced from my card and transferred to Ato’s card, as we had to give the receptionists our cards to put on file.

Ato wasn’t playing around with them or me when it came to that charge on his card. I understood his cool frustration though. I don’t know what changed because I did everything just like the receptionist taught me two days before. The receptionist at that time was cool though. He removed the charge from his account and I didn’t even have to pay anything. There are truly some nice people in this world man!

We then went over to the other hotel where we got the first real breakfast of our trip. Instead of muffins and bagels with no plates we got egg McMuffins with a choice of turkey or beef sausage, water and juice. We still didn’t have any plates but we at least had a bag to store the egg sandwiches in. That’s an improvement! Then, on top of that, the egg McMuffin held off my appetite until lunch. Couldn’t say the same for the day before so we truly were getting somewhere!

It was amazing dialoguing with the different All-Stars about the culture of their HBCU’s versus the culture of FVSU. I briefly talked with Brandon Long, North Carolina A&T’s HBCU All Star, about how their election week panned out. Their elction process was different and the storylines surrounding Election Week differed from that of FVSU. During this trip I gained a better understanding of what goes on at other HBCU’s and learned to appreciate what I have down at Fort Valley. I’m so used to how things are at FVSU that it was foreign to even hear anything that deviated from that Wildcat Culture!

Speaking of Wildcat Culture, FVSU’s rivalry with Albany State University is something that runs deep in us. That’s one of the first things you learn when you get down to FVSU. The upperclassmen orientation leaders say, “Albany isn’t our friend and if they start roasting on Twitter you better go in!” HBCU rivalries happen all the time and are based around sports (mainly football). The different social media battles that occur are normally done in jest. However, things do get real when it comes to our rivalry.

Just like we always to, we take a good thing too far. There are people from FVSU that legit have hate in their heart for anything even concerning Albany and the same goes for Albany towards FVSU. I’ve encountered some people from Albany that even treated me funny and looked at me crazy when I was at the Fountain City Classic with my “Slam The Rams” T-Shirt on. I mean, it’s just a school shirt! You don’t have to mug me like you want to fight or something. I’m trying to get some fish and fries and I had Albany people, especially Alumni, sizing me up!

Sunday we were all in line ready to walk in and finally get recognized as HBCU All-Stars by the White House Initiative on HBCU’s at a reception they were holding for us. Elyse Jones, the woman over the All-Star Ambassador program, was lining up in Alphabetical order by our institution. Albany was second behind Alabama State and I finally got to see Albany’s All-Star for the first time. Her name was Erin Baugh and she was nothing like I expected. She was a pleasant surprise really.

Since I was a freshman I was told that Albany State students were rude, cutthroat and arrogant. Erin was none of that. I peeped a very positive vibe from her. She was all smiles as she stood in the line waiting for her name to be called. I noticed her mingling with the other All-Stars and she seemed really cool. Still, I wasn’t sold that I should go over and introduce myself to her. The fear of the rivalry that I don’t fully embrace affecting our interaction lingered in my head.

An opportunity to finally strike up a conversation with her occured as we were walking from the Eisenhower Building to the shuttle bus where we’d be going to the American Association of Medical Colleges reception for the All-Stars Monday evening. I walked passed her and she looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and was going to keep walking but I decided to turn around and introduce myself. I knew full well she’s was Albany’s All-Star but I said to her,

“Hey, aren’t you Albany’s All-Star?”

She nodded. I smiled and said, “I’m Randall Barnes, Fort Valley’s All-Star. I’m not coming at you on any rivalry type stuff, I just wanted to meet you and get to know you.”

She laughed and said in jest, “It’s ok! I’m not worried about Fort Valley!”

I then started talking to her about what it was like at Albany. I swear, Erin was 300% different than what I expected from the All-Star from Albany. She’s so nice and sweet! It was so stupid of me to let that rivalry get to me so much that it deterred me from introducing myself to her. However, to my defense, I dare you to go on the #fvsu or the #asu or #AlbanynotAlabama hashtag in November leading up to our Classic and see if some of the things that we say to each other are just funny jokes we say back and forth to each other about our “school rivalry”. If you go on the hashtag, you’ll see why I was apprehensive. I was 100% wrong though!

So, I asked Erin if I could sit with her on the bus so we could talk more about her experience at Albany. She agreed and I was about to go to the back of the bus and sit with her but my All-Star friend from Bluefield State College Briana Vineyard said real loud,

“Um Randall, I thought you were sitting with me!”

I froze in time for a couple of seconds. I thought she forgot about it and, because I thought she forgot, I forgot myself! She had a whole clear, empty seat ready for me to sit down. Plus it was the first seat on the row, not the window seat, and that’s my favorite seat! I told Erin I’d talk to her later and sat with Briana!

Briana is interesting because she almost didn’t make it on the trip. She had a couple of recent tragedies in her life that threatened to deter her from coming on this trip. However, we encouraged her to come and her parents told her that she shouldn’t pass up this opportunity. I was glad she decided to come and I told her that I personally would do everything that I could to make sure that she had the time of her life on our DC trip!

It wasn’t hard at all! Briana is so energetic and cheerful! She’s like literally a ball of energy! I feel like Briana would’ve been an actor in The Amanda Show on Nickelodeon back in the 90’s with how much energy she had. You wouldn’t be able to tell that Briana was going through something at home. It amazed me. That’s the epitome of strength in my eyes!

Briana and I got really close as the trip went on. I probably talked to her the most out of anybody on the trip (even more than Imani, only slightly though) because we kept being in the same place at the same time.  She also was a part of something big for Elyse and got me involved in it. More on that later.

Let’s hop back to Tuesday! We pulled up at the Smithsonian Museum and I was amazed. We saw the Washington Monument and we all took pictures of it. We then made it inside the museum and I once again was amazed at how huge it was. My attention quickly turned from the museum to Omarosa seemingly popping up on us out of nowhere.

We all were confused when we saw her. Why was she there? We were at a place that had nothing to do with the White House or being HBCU All-Stars. The trip to the Smithsonian was supposed to be a leisure trip because a lot of us were asking about it. Yet, Omarosa was there with us just hovering around. She swore that the White House rented out the Smithsonian just for the All-Stars to tour but, right after she said that, a whole other group of white people walked into the museum. We know they weren’t HBCU All-Stars!  What was she talking about?

Going to the Smithsonian African-American Museum was honestly a humbling experience. It sharpened my focus. I saw the different subsets of African-American culture. I discovered things that I didn’t even know about black culture I also saw a exhibit called “The Word” that covered the oratorical skill of black people.

I could just envision my photo hanging right there beside James Baldwin or Zora Neal Hurston. I saw my picture hanging right in between Tom Joyner and Wendy Williams in my mind. Going to the Smithsonian showed me that my dreams were possible. My ambitions aren’t farfetched. I can achieve anything I dream about because of the pioneers who came before me paved the way.

I wish we could’ve stayed in the Smithsonian even longer than the two hours we were there but we had to take the 500 pictures that we became accustomed to during the trip in front of the Smithsonian. Then, we went down to the White House. We were standing out there waiting the get into the White House for what seemed to be two hours. In that wait time, I discovered that Elyse actually went to an HBCU and that HBCU was Albany State University. Once again, I was shocked! She didn’t finish at Albany though. She transferred to Valdosta State. She’s still an Albany Alumnae though! Sounds crazy but just trust me!

Speaking of Elyse, I didn’t like how Omarosa was trying her best to take credit for the trip. We were standing in alphabetical order by our last names as we prepared to go through yet another security checkpoint to get into the White House. Omarosa was in the front telling us how she hired the photographers out of her pocket and how she got the White House to drop $100,000+ to fund this trip. She could be lying or she could be telling the truth. I honestly don’t know. However, I need Omarosa to put some respect on Elyse’s name.

Elyse has been the glue holding this thing together through this whole process. She’s kept us informed and answered our questions in a timely fashion. She’s consistently shown us love and was such a joy to meet in person. So, for her not to get credit was disheartening. As All-Stars, we had to take things into our own hands.

My roommate Ato thought of the great idea of getting Elyse a card to show her appreciation. So, Briana and Jeffrey hopped on the task and bought cards for us to sign before they left for DC. Briana linked up with me at the Smithsonian and asked if I could write something lengthier to Elyse on behalf of all the All-Stars during lunch. However, I didn’t get that chance because Briana and her mentor went on and left before the lunch started.

She gave the envelopes of cards to me. “Randall, I have to go on and go but I want you to present the cards to Elyse. I know you’ll say the right thing!”

She then gave me a hug and said her goodbyes to everyone else and left. There I was with the cards in my hand nervous. Yup, I was nervous! What could I possibly say to Elyse, a woman that literally changed my life with one email on that fateful late July afternoon? There was so much to say yet nothing would capture the significance of what she meant to us. I tried my best to say the right thing and got Imani to record our presentation to her. I said,

“Elyse, we appreciate everything you done for us. You’ve changed all of our lives in ways that you never will understand. Thank you for putting us in a position to positively affect our HBCU’s, our communities and the nation in general. We won’t let you down!”

I guess she really felt the emotions of our dedication to her, as tears started to stream down her face. At that moment, I could tell that all the outpouring of emotions that she kept bottled up to display a perfect image for us were coming out. She was going through so much more to keep everything together than what we imagined. After this trip, I appreciated her even more than I did before. She’s truly a superwoman!

After the dinner things were bittersweet. We all started to leave each other and get ready for our flights. A few of the people that didn’t go on to the airport due to their flight leaving at 5:00 stayed in the lobby and chilled. Some of them did their homework. The hotel food for our lunch was good but it wasn’t enough to fill me up. So, one of the All-Stars not preoccupied with homework pitched the idea of going to the bar.

Now, I’m not a drinker but I found out they had fries so I was down with the plan. So, I told Imani (who we can basically call my travel buddy at this point) where I was going. So, we go down to the bar and a minute after I finally get my fries Imani calls me and lets me know that the shuttle is here and that they were going to go on and board it. I told her I was on the way and got my All-Star friend from Southern University Yo’Sha to come with me because I left my bags in her room.

I was moving so quickly because I didn’t want to get left. Halfway to the hotel I called Imani to see where she was. I was sure she had already boarded the shuttle bus with everyone else. However, I called her and she said so calmly,

“Hey! I’m still sitting here doing my homework.”

I was shocked, especially when I made it back to the hotel. Imani was literally still sitting there doing her homework. Everybody else that was riding the Delta flight back to Atlanta was gone except for her. She waited for me! That meant a lot to me because she literally didn’t have to do that. She wanted to make sure that I was straight and I appreciated her tremendously.

So, the next shuttle came and I missed it by one second! I had turned around to gather my things and an All-Star gave me her phone so I could put in my email. When I turned around, that shuttle was gone! Imani called me and let me know that they were already on the shuttle bus. Surprisingly, I didn’t even trip. I reassuringly told her that I’d catch the next shuttle and get down there before the flight. And that’s what I did.

My dad always taught me that a man figures things out. We don’t whine or complain about what we can’t change. We especially don’t give up! This was the precise time that everything that my parents taught me about time management, having a sense of urgency and handling your own business started to shine through. I waited 20 minutes and got on the next shuttle with the other HBCU All-Stars that had a later flight than I did and pulled up at the airport with them. My man Jajuan from Oakwood University help direct me to where the Delta gate was.

I moved through the airport so quickly you’d think that it was 5 minutes until my plane took off. I went through every aspect of the flight as quickly as possible. TSA was tricky though. I came back to the airport with a few new bags and my bookbag and suitcase was jammed packed with stuff so I couldn’t just stuff the bag of things I bought in there. So, I had to take out like five bins for them to check my stuff. I slipped in my ID and boarding pass because I just showed it to the TSA agent that let me in for the bag check.

I walked through the metal detector and they found that I didn’t have anything on me. So, it was only 6:33 and I thought I was going to make it past TSA and move smooth to where I needed to be. Wrong! Of course, I acted like I lost my boarder pass and ID. They were in the bin the whole time but I was acting like a crazed maniac trying to find it before the flight took off.

I tried to see if I left it in the bin behind the metal detector and TSA promptly stopped me.

“Sir, you can’t go that way.”

I responded. “I apologize! I’m just trying to find my license and boarding pass!”

The lady said, “Is that it right there on the ground?”

I picked up the boarding pass that was on the ground and it wasn’t it! So, I kept looking around, patting my pants pockets like eight or nine times before I finally gave up in trying to look for the pass. I was just gonna spend the night in DC! Hey, I’d have time to make all the connects I wanted to make if I did anyway. My parents would be pretty mad though!

Then, something told me to look in the bin where the bags of stuff I purchased were. I slowly pulled out both my boarding pass and ID, which made the TSA officers around me burst out laughing. I didn’t even blame them. I laughed too.

The lady that spoke to me before said, “Sir, please put that in your pocket!”

I smiled and shook my head. “Will do! It’s my first time flying!”

“Well, keep track of that !”

So, I started pushing towards the A3 checkpoint that was supposed to be at. For some reason, I was under the impression that our plane took off at 7:00 instead of 7:30. I went up to that desk before you boarded the plane and scanned my ticket and the man looked at me and said in a strong accent, “Your flight hasn’t boarded yet.”

I didn’t understand what he was saying until Imani walked up beside me and I saw everyone that was riding the Delta flight back to Atlanta. Yup, that really happened.

Writing that whole thing out has me tired like I just went through it. Anyway, we just passed through Montgomery Alabama and we’re on the way to New Orleans now! I can’t wait to see Southern University in person! I definitely hope I get a chance to hang out with Yo’Sha and Lea as well. Even moreso, I’m hoping that my Wildcats pull an upset this weekend. Only time will tell!

PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.

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