Just before 8 a.m. at Jackson State University on Aug. 13, a placid calm covered the sprawling manicured 200-acre campus as administrators, staff and volunteers wearing navy blue “JSU Move In 2016” shirts prepared to meet the largest incoming classes of freshmen and transfer students.
It was only a matter of moments before enthusiastic energy interrupted the calm as the first of nearly 1,100 enrollees from around the globe arrived for the start of the 2016 fall semester.
Director of the JSU Welcome Center Gwen Caples said, “I’m just excited to be here working with the volunteers posted at the new welcome stations that are located across the campus ready to assist the various freshmen and their families arriving today.”
“We want to ensure a seamless operation with move in and all of the residence halls and that everyone gets acclimated to JSU because it’s the best place to be,” added Caples, who is also assistant vice president for Institutional Advancement.
Carrying overstuffed boxes and bags, a persistent stream of students and families flowed throughout the university.
Transfer students say goodbye to the old and hello to the new
“I never had this much stuff when I went to school,” said Kendra Seals, as she maneuvers a packed shopping cart of goods inside the lobby of Campbell College Suites. Seals’ goddaughter, Chris Johnson, is a transfer student from Mississippi State University in Starkville.
The 20-year old junior from Moss Point quietly looks around the suite exhibiting a satisfied expression.
“I like my room; it’s nice. It’s better than my old school,” said Johnson, smiling coyly.
Ready for the start of the semester, Johnson revealed that attending Jackson State was something she had always wanted to do. She is also an avid fan of the softball team and plans to try out as a walk-on.
Niasha Stewart, a social work major who transferred from Hinds Community College, is Johnson’s roommate. The camaraderie between the two made it difficult to fathom that they had met only minutes before.
“We have the same major, and we just clicked,” Johnson said.
Stewart, 20, from Bolton, wanted to attend Jackson State for two reasons – the university’s great social work program and to be a member of the illustrious Sonic Boom of the South marching band. Stewart, who plays the clarinet, was thrilled to learn that she had aced her audition earlier this year.
“I was like, ‘Thank God.’ Everyone can’t do it [join the Boom], so I’m always challenging and pushing myself to be even greater than what I believe,” Stewart said.
Both roommates agree that they are focused on their books and graduating. “You have to know why you’re here. It’s cool to party at times, but you also have to know when,” Stewart declares.
Before heading outside to collect more cargo, Seals, a Mississippi Southern graduate, divulges that she wanted to attend Jackson State, but her father was opposed.
“So, I’m just ecstatic that I can live vicariously through her,” said Seals, gesturing toward Johnson and laughing.
Freshmen ready for fresh starts
Inside John Dixon Hall, the “One JSU” culture was personified in a pictorial scene that included teens on the verge of adulthood intersecting with seasoned upperclassmen volunteers; football players meshing with science majors, and university alumni mingling with future alumni.
Sandra A. Harper, 66, is proudly dropping off her grandson. She graduated from JSU in 1977 with a degree in business administration and retired from the federal government after 27 years. She’s also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
“He is going to be a Tiger. I’m really excited. My baby boy graduated from Tougaloo, but that’s all right – I like Tougaloo, too,” she said.
Harper’s grandson, Antonio Harper, 18, is majoring in computer engineering. “I chose Jackson State because I know it will give me a better opportunity in my major. In today’s society, we need more computer engineers,” Harper said before ambling off to find his dorm assignment.
Michael Taylor II is from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy – nationally known for having 100 percent of their graduating seniors attend college. This year marks its seventh consecutive year.
Taylor is spending his birthday getting settled into residence life, but last year he spent it delivering food to the homeless. He even purchased the food with his personal funds.
“I wanted to do something different than throwing a party. I wanted to help someone else, and it felt good. I enjoy helping people out,” he said.
Taylor, a spoken word artist and amateur thespian, chose theater for his major and plans to join Jackson State’s acting troupe MADDRAMA. He was encouraged to attend an HBCU by his middle school teacher, a JSU alum.
After investigating information about the university, Taylor was resolute on becoming a JSU Tiger.
“I’m looking forward to the change of environment. … I feel that I’m too much of a city boy, so it’s a welcomed change. I’m excited,” Taylor said.
The amount of distance between Jackson and Chicago initially was an issue for his parents, but they stand behind their son’s decision.
“We did some research and found out Walter Payton went here, and he’s one of our hometown names from Chicago, so if this is where Michael wants to go and he’s happy being here, I’m happy for him,” his father said.
For his mother, the distance feels like another loss for their family. Several years ago, Taylor’s older brother became a victim of Chicago’s gun violence.
“He’s my only one left. I feel like I’m not going to have any children left, but I want him to go on with his life,” Taylor’s mother said in a voice wrought with emotion.
“He wanted to leave because of what happened to his brother. He was missing him, and he doesn’t want to be there any longer. So, I’m happy that he’s happy, and that’s all that matters,” she added.
Taylor is not alone at JSU. Directly across the hall from his dorm room lives his closest friend and fellow Urban Prep graduate, Lawrence Scroggins.
Scroggins’ parents were also hesitant when he decided to attend an out-of-state school but supported him. “Once they recognized I had a real chance to get out of the city they came around,” he said.
Scroggins’, a psychology major, decided he will use his education at Jackson State to give back to his community. Planning to change his concentration eventually to pre-law, he wants to attend law school later and become a criminal defense attorney.
“My passion is helping people in the struggle. I realize that the biggest struggle, especially for my people is the criminal justice system. I have an opportunity to go and help my people so I may as well take it,” he said.
Like his friend, Scroggins welcomes the change of environment and newfound independence. “I’m looking forward to my experiences with the teachers and getting to know people from everywhere — just the overall diversity and campus fun.”
Outside on the steps of Dixon Hall, New Orleans transplant and freshman Kambui (Kam-buoy) Bomani, 18, indulged in the last of several pictures with his parents.
It’s no surprise that Bomani is a mass communications major. His mother and father are both published authors, and he hopes to achieve acclaim as a sports journalist. He facetiously suggested that it was his parents’ decision for him to attend JSU. Nonetheless, he trusts their judgment.
“I’m hoping it helps me become a better writer and helps me grow as a person, so we’ll see what happens here,” he said.
His father, Nadir Bomani, explains, “We heard Jackson State had a really good communications program, and Kambui always wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so we were looking at HBCUs that could cover that. What we found out was that JSU had one of the top programs, so it was a no-brainer.”
Although this is the first time Bomani will be away from his parents in 18 years, he shows no signs of separation anxiety.
“They want me to do well and they feel this is the environment I need to succeed. The ball is in my court, and I’m going to try and be the best sports writer I can be.”