Tears flow from the eyes of incoming Jackson State University freshman Kamryn Crayton as she says: “I’m going to miss my family, my little sister, too. I can’t annoy her from here.”She smiles bashfully then reaches underneath her glasses to wipe her face. Only moments before, Kamryn had been exchanging laughs with her younger sister, J’lani, and their parents, Donald and Kolisha Crayton, but when faced with the reality of her family’s impending departure, she is rife with emotion.
It’s a justified display that often takes place during “Move-In Day” at the fourth largest HBCU in the country. Every year, on a Saturday in August, freshmen converge all over the plush 200-acre campus to say ‘hello’ to the next chapter in their lives as loved ones bid them ‘goodbye.’
Kamryn details her visit to JSU last summer as she unpacks her belongings in her McAlister-Whiteside Residence Hall dorm room. She confirms that the possibility of financial relief aided her quest to become a Tiger.
“I was like, ‘You know free money sounds real nice,’ being that I have no money, I needed to consider that. So, I got accepted, and they gave me a scholarship. Plus, they have a really good STEM program,” says the biology major.
Donald Crayton, Kamryn’s dad, is enthused that his oldest daughter decided to attend his alma mater. His wife, Kolisha, tauntingly points out that she graduated from Tennessee State University – a long-standing JSU rival.
Although Kamryn had the option of going to TSU and Fisk University, Crayton admitted a slight bias in the selection process.
“But, when we started to compare the biology programs, we realized that Jackson State had the better STEM curriculum, and we wanted to make sure she went to the best,” says Crayton, giving his wife a mocking glance.
Kolisha returns a playful eye-roll, before adding: “We always told the girls we don’t care where they go, as long as they go to an HBCU. I’m fine with her going to Jackson State.”
Both parents agree that Bloomington Hills, Illinois, where they lived before a recent move to Texas, was considerably lacking in diversity.
“We just thought it would be best for them to be around more positive African-Americans who are doing something with their lives and learn more about their culture, which isn’t often shared at certain institutions,” says Kolisha.Fifteen-year-old J’lani has mixed feelings about her big sister leaving. “I’m a little sad and a little thrilled,” she explains. “At home, our rooms are literally right next door to each other, and when she’s on the phone I can hear everything she’s talking about, and it’s usually at night when I’m trying to sleep.”
Eager for the opportunity to learn how Kamryn will navigate her newfound independence Donald Crayton says, “I hope we did the right thing for her growing up because now is the time when you’ll see your child start to flourish. We think we’ve done a great job of being parents, but we want to see if she executes what we’ve taught her.”
He then divulges an interesting and sentimental connection between him and Kamryn, who was born one month before his May ’99 graduation from Jackson State.
“Although she wasn’t old enough to hold her head up, she was here for my commencement. But, I’m proud that she saw her dad graduate, and now I look forward to seeing her graduate.”
Bynum practices what he preaches
Downstairs in the lobby of McAlister Whiteside, it is hard to decipher who is more excited about the start of the fall semester, the incoming freshmen or President Dr. William B. Bynum Jr., who, on numerous occasions, has described his extreme penchant for “Move-in Day.”
“I feel outstanding,” says Bynum, wearing a JSU baseball cap and matching polo shirt. He moves comfortably inside and outside the residence hall shaking hands with both students and parents while engaging in conversation.
“Getting out and about and being able to look into the eyes of the freshmen and returning students, talking to them and learning about their hopes, dreams and aspirations, is what it’s all about – I am one blessed and thankful brother right now,” he says.
A member of the fraternal organization Omega Psi Phi, Inc., the president graciously obliges a request for a selfie from several “young bruhs” serving as student-volunteers.Bynum then applauds their humanitarian efforts. “Life should be about service, it has to be. It can’t always be about stepping or all the other fun things that come with joining a fraternity. It has to be about what we can do for other people, and how we can improve our communities and ourselves as well.”
JaQuan Powell, also an Omega, has spent the morning helping underclassmen settle into their new surroundings. After speaking with the president, Powell says, “He’s a real stand-up guy to come out here and mingle with the commoners.”
The senior hailing from Crystal Springs sums up his college experience as amazing. “It’s time to move on to the next point of my life, you know ‘the real world,’ as most people would say. I’m an entrepreneurship major, so I’m looking forward to growing as a business man.”
Gabby Baker, a junior political science major from Memphis, recalls a time when she was unfamiliar with the campus, so she is also devoting her day to helping newcomers get acclimated to the University. Baker says she plans to be a professional fixer like Olivia Pope from the television show “Scandal,” but in lieu of working in politics, she prefers the entertainment industry.
Holding someone’s oversized teddy bear in one arm and a floor-length mirror that dwarfs her petite frame, Baker declares her school pride in a chant-like diction. “We’ve been having a lot of things thrown our way, but we’re going to shoot through adversity. We’re going to prosper as a University and remain the best HBCU there is.”
No matter how far the divide, students still choose JSU
In John Dixon Hall, Charles DeLoach is waiting for his son, Parker, to receive his room assignment.
“As a kid, he was the most rambunctious. He was the loudest noisemaker, and he was the one I had to get on the most, but he’s a real good kid. I’m ready to see what happens,” says the father of four.
Parker’s mother, Tamara, was not too keen on their youngest son being a 10-hour car drive away from their hometown of Chicago. “He’s gone the farthest away to college. I’m having heart palpitations about that,” she says.
But, after meeting Bynum and his wife Deborah, it seems that Tamara’s apprehensions have been put to bed. She acknowledges that speaking with the president and first lady was comforting and likens the encounter to dropping kids off for a long-term visit with a reassuring granddad. “It feels like family,” she says.
It is a similar warmth and sincerity that Parker assigns to the JSU recruiters that visited his high school during a college fair. “They made me feel as if they really wanted me to be here,” he explains.
The computer science major shakes off any questions of nervousness. Instead, he says: I’m ready for my doors to open for me. I’m ready for the future.”
Across the yard, Dr. Deborah Mays-Jackson, vice president and chief of staff of JSU, is headed to “Thee Family Cookout” held in the campus Student Center. She radiates an impressive buoyancy as she reflects on the beauty and synergy she witnessed in the Jackson State staff, administrators and volunteers.
“It was also exhilarating to watch the parents bringing their babies to us and knowing that they are entrusting us with the responsibility of educating their children,” says the JSU alum. “We want the families to know that we are committed to excellence just like we are committed to their loved ones. It’s going to be an exciting school year.”