HL 012: The Transformative Power of HBCUs with Dr Crystal deGregory

Last Updated on September 14, 2023

In episode 12 of the HBCU Lifestyle Podcast I chat with Dr. Crystal deGregory, the founder of HBCUstory.com and lecturer at Tennessee State University.
Dr. Crystal deGregory, founder of HBCUstory.com and lecturer at Tennessee State University

In episode 12 of the HBCU Lifestyle Podcast I'm honored to have fellow HBCU advocate Dr. Crystal deGregory (Fisk '03) on the show. Crystal (also known as HBCUstorian, Bahama Mama, and Chief) is the founder of HBCUSTORY, Inc., the co-host of the Black Docs Radio Show, and a lecturer at Tennessee State University.

Will and Determination is the Basis for Success

This interview turned out to reveal a very inspiring story about overcoming obstacles through pure self-determination. Crystal “dropped the real” on the struggle of growing up fatherless in Freeport, Bahamas in a challenging school environment. Fortunately, she had a very strong support system made up of her mother, grandmother, and extended family. deGregory was a very active, athletic, and bright student, even skipping a grade in middle school. In high school, however, she wound up getting lost in the shuffle. She was often labeled disruptive for being excessively talkative in class. This made it difficult for her to navigate successfully through her high school years.

In her senior year of high school, opportunities began to open up when Anthony Jones, a Fisk University recruiter, took notice of her. Jones played an integral part in helping Crystal transition from the Caribbean to college on “a wing and a prayer” when she was sixteen years old. As a first-generation college student with no money and very few options, deGregory defied the odds and went on to thrive in college.

Putting in Work and Making the Most of Opportunities

In our discussion, Crystal described her black college experience, including how she learned to be independent, the black diaspora, her decision not to pledge in undergrad, and how Fisk prepared her to attend a PWI graduate school. DeGregory also shared her most memorable experience at Fisk and how it changed her entire life. It was through her experiences at Fisk that Crystal was able to go on to make history with three other HBCU graduates at Vanderbilt University.

We also touched on topics such as the intake (or pledging) process in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and how prospective members should approach existing members of Greek organizations to discuss membership. Her recent experiences with students approaching her with questions led her to write an article on “How to pledge black fraternities and sororities.”

Telling the Good Story of What HBCUs Have Done and Are Doing

At the halfway point in the show, we discussed why it was so important for her to launch HBCUSTORY.com in the spring of 2012. Crystal describes her motivation as “the need to counter the prevailing narrative.” As an HBCU alumna and advocate, she grew frustrated with constant questions like “Are HBCUs still relevant?” and “Are HBCUs going to survive?” To her, all this doubt comes from a very negative place. With the launch of her website she took an offensive stance instead of a defensive posture.

“I have always had an interest in people and the story of their lives,” Crystal said. With this in mind, Crystal made a point of sharing people's HBCU memories of being on the yard, of interacting with faculty, of friendships, of relationships, and of campus activities, all from a place of love. For her, it is critical that we as HBCU graduates share our successes (more so than our frustrations) and demonstrate a collective sense of pride in HBCUs in general (not just in our individual schools).

Save the Date: October 24-25 is the 2nd Annual HBCU Symposium

To wrap up the show we talked about this year's HBCU Symposium, which will take place in October 2014. The event is an opportunity to have HBCU presidents, administrators, faculty, researchers, students, alumni, and supports converge in one place to discuss the work they are doing at and for HBCUs, as well as to discuss best practices on HBCU campuses. Discussion of best practices is especially important because many of us are facing the same challenges.

The theme for the event is “Where Do HBCUs Go From Here? Strategic Partnerships + Sustainable Futures.” The two-day event will be held in Washington, D.C. and presented by HBCUstory and the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU). For more information on the symposium, please visit the 2014 HBCUstory Symposium page.Nashville-based HBCUstory Inc. announces a brand new strategic partnership with the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) to host its second annual HBCUstory SYMPOSIUM, Oct. 24-25.

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