By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Konner Price didn’t choose to attend Miles College. “Actually, Miles College chose me,” said Price, who is majoring in business administration.
During spring break of his senior year in high school at Justin F. Kimbell High School in Dallas, Texas, Price applied to colleges and universities with hopes of receiving scholarships.
“I always wanted to attend a [Historically Black College and University (HBCU)] and go somewhere that would make me feel comfortable…,” he said. “I was happy Miles offered me a full ride.”
That decision paid off for Price, who promotes the best the Fairfield, Alabama, school has to offer in his role as Mister Miles for the 2022–2023 academic school year.
“My role is about being a leader, leading by actions not just what I say, as well as advocating and advertising for my school,” he said.
For Abigail Boudreaux, a Miles College junior from Lafayette, Louisiana, majoring in biology, attending an HBCU was not an important factor when considering her options for higher education—but that changed when she set foot on the Miles College campus.
“When I was thinking about what school I wanted to attend, going to an HBCU wasn’t important to me, but being [at Miles] for two years has shown exactly why it was important because Miles College has given me so many opportunities,” she said.
“I’m happy I chose Miles College because I feel like they have given me the experiences that a larger school can’t. At a larger school, I feel I would just be a number. … At Miles College, we are a family.”
HBCUs have become a second home for thousands of African American students in pursuit of higher education, and many attend the SpringComing festival, an annual gathering designed as a homecoming in the spring that is held in select cities across the country.
During the weekend-long celebration, HBCU alumni and professionals reunite and socialize through various events. This year, two cities will host SpringComing: Birmingham, March 17-19, and New York City, April 14-16.
As Miles College celebrated its Founders’ Day and 125th Anniversary earlier this month, Bobbie Knight, president of the institution, said it’s important to spotlight the role of HBCUs, where 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black lawyers, and 40 percent of Black members of Congress have graduated.
“HBCUs benefit the students, who take the valuable skills they learn to the workplace,” she said. “HBCUs benefit the communities where they are located because these institutions are significant drivers of essential economic activity on and off campus. Investing in HBCUs pays significant and lasting dividends.”
Like many students on campus, JaKaria Miller, a graduating senior with a double major in business administration and accounting, loves the interaction between students and faculty at the school, which has an enrollment of 1,101.
“Campus culture here is family-oriented,” said Miller, who serves as Miss Miles for the 2022–2023 academic year. “We’re big on athletics and most importantly academics. The faculty and staff here try their hardest to make sure every student’s needs are met. We have their personal contact [info], and they have ours. The line of communication is always open.
“We’re not family by blood, but we are family by the institution we attend. We are embedded to each other by our roots and how we look out for each other like a real family.”
For Arturo Meza, a graduating senior majoring in social work and chapter president of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Incorporated, the Miles College experience was different than most.
“Coming all the way from California and attending Miles College is very special. Being Mexican and coming to an HBCU makes me very diverse, and I get to [learn about] other cultures,” said Meza, who grew up in a predominately Hispanic community. “I spoke Spanish and listened to Spanish radio stations. On campus, there is a small portion of my culture, but the overall campus culture is very fun and exciting. There are all-around good vibes.” Meza said he is one of four Hispanic students who currently attend Miles College and added that he’s found everyone very welcoming.
In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meza, a long snapper, was recruited to play football at Miles College. Asked how he would convince someone to attend the institution, he said, “I would say, the staff, administration, and professors are amazing and willing to help students succeed, be successful later on in life, and pay it forward to society.”
Price said he’s “very appreciative” of the opportunities Miles has provided.
“I’ve learned valuable lessons from the faculty, staff, and students,” he said. “You know the saying ‘Life is what you make it.’ Well, at Miles College it’s like anything in life—the opportunities are here for you, you just have to make it happen. My experience at Miles College has been nothing but exceptional. I definitely love my school because I make the best out of it.”
Another characteristic that unites the Miles family is school pride. Boudreaux loves to dress in her Miles College gear.
“I love to talk about Miles College. It is a great school,” said Boudreaux, who is on an academic and softball scholarship and a founder of the Louisiana Culture Club, a group in honor of her home state that hosts events like crawfish boils.
To convince someone to attend Miles College, Boudreaux said, “I would say staff and faculty will support you, and they really care. It has a great atmosphere, the people are here to help further your career outside of Miles College, and there are so many opportunities. I have found a community within the classrooms, on the softball field, within my sorority, [Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated], and just here on campus. I am embraced for who I am.”
When it comes to school pride, Meza said, “I’m a proud Milean. I love to represent the fact that I attend Miles College. It’s like a unicorn effect. It’s rare that you’ll see a Latino attend an HBCU.”
Miller said school pride is important “because students help make the institution what it is. Without us, Miles College wouldn’t exist. If we continue to pour into our school as much as it pours into us, we will continue to have high school students tour the campus, people will continue to donate money to the institution, and so much more.”
As Miss Miles, Miller also tries to lead by example: “I try to support most events on campus, and I post on social media about how great the school is.”
“Back home, I travel to schools and talk to the students about Miles College,” said Miller, who is from Linden, Alabama. “I let them know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for Miles College.”
Miller added that attending Miles opened her eyes to opportunities and resources that she didn’t expect.
“I have received endless blessings and endless opportunities to further my knowledge and become successful in the real world,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of great people, and I have had some amazing mentors that I still communicate with.
“I got out of my comfort zone when I attended my first Honors Curriculum meeting. From there, I began to branch out and do other things socially, and that has built me into the woman I am today. It also gave me the confidence to take on any opportunity.”
Price said, “School pride means you represent your school well. You support it as much as possible.”
For anyone considering Miles, he added, “I would tell them it’s about students congregating and networking, having fun, embracing and enjoying the college experience. … We encourage students to go after what they want, be courageous, and never let anyone tell them otherwise.
“I believe everyone here at Miles College has a purpose. When you come here, the administration and the professors are going to ensure that you succeed. They are here to help you reach your career goals and do everything you want to do in life.”
Full disclosure: Bobbie Knight is chairman of The Birmingham Times Media Group
To learn more about the HBCU SpringComing that will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, March 17 through 19, visit www.hbcuspringcoming.com.