When Deon Rhode visited Howard University, he had no clue that his first trip would lead him to 28 other historically black colleges and universities. As he completes his Bachelor’s degree, Rhode continues to travel across the country to learn more about the history, culture, and traditions that have shaped our country’s HBCUs.
Rhode began his college education at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. He was a successful student and band member who was active in CSU’s Kappa Kappa Psi Band Fraternity, but after two years Rhode decided to leave school to help support his family.
Six years later, Rhode went back to school in Arizona. He was committed to getting his degree, but difficult circumstances forced him to change paths yet again.
“Later in 2012, I enrolled at another school out of Arizona online…when she [Deon’s wife] got her Bachelor’s she went straight to get her Master’s degree at a ground school apart from where we live. I had to drop out again because I was working, trying to take care of the house while she got her Master’s.”
Despite the setbacks, Rhode knew that he wanted to go back to school. He wanted to find a program that allowed him to study psychology and immerse himself in black history.
After attending two predominantly white universities, Rhode decided to become a part of an HBCU community. When his wife finished her Master’s degree, Rhode transferred to Claflin University to join their online psychology program.
“When she finished hers, when the time came back up I found an HBCU to enroll in online and luckily it was a top 10 HBCU right in my state. Right in my backyard, really, that had a fully online program….this is their first year doing an online psychology program so, it’s pretty cool.”
Discovering America’s HBCUs
Before he transferred to Claflin, Rhode’s interest in black history led him to Howard University to visit their campus and to get a glimpse of the school’s rich heritage.
“It really started last Thanksgiving . I was in DC. I’m from DC and my Mom lives across the street from Howard. I was like, ‘Man, after all these years I’ve never been on campus at Howard. I’ll just drive through.”
“Since I’m a member of Kappa Kappa Psi I was like, ‘I want to go see their plots. I just want to see what Howard is like, a little bit at least.’ I went over there, gave it a go, gave it a look, and I was like, man that was cool.”
In April, Rhode took a trip to New Orleans with his wife and a group of friends. On the way, he convinced them to stop at Tuskegee University to visit a school that was built by African-Americans.
“I had just read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington… and I wanted to see if I could touch one of those buildings that were built by the students if they still stood, if I could get over to touch it. We went, we looked around. All of us went to PWIs except for one, and we were all like, ‘Dang why didn’t we do this? Why didn’t we take advantage of this?”
With the encouragement of his family and friends, Rhode also traveled to Dillard University, Xavier University, and Alabama State University before returning home from his vacation. He considers Tuskegee the official start of his journey to every HBCU.
“On that trip we visited four HBCUs. I was like ‘You know what? I’m just going to go to visit every one of them, maybe within the next five years.”
Finding Every Black College
From Tuskegee to Livingstone, Rhode has officially traveled to 28 HBCUs to see their campuses and learn more about the people who carry on their legacy. He has specific characteristics that he looks for in each school, hallmarks of a proud HBCU: campus aesthetics, Greek life, hospitality, the surrounding community, the city/state culture, etc. Rhode also considers what the school needs and what facilities, organizations, and resources would help that college continue its mission.
Rhode is committed to visiting every black college in the United States of America in the next five years – and his visits are getting noticed. On his most recent visit to St. Augustine’s University, one of the deans gave him a free shirt and asked if he could keep her updated on his journey. Those kinds of personal moments make Rhode feel like his trips are making a difference.
“It’s that kind of stuff… It felt just as good as the first stop. So the last stop felt just as good as the first stop. That’s what keeps me going.”
Deon currently lives in Charleston, SC with his wife Felicity. They are expecting their first child in December, and the nursery will be HBCU themed. Deon is also expected to graduate in the fall of 2017 with his bachelor’s degree in Psychology.