'Our America: The HBCU Experience' explores Winston-Salem State University

Monday, October 25, 2021
'Our America: The HBCU Experience' explores Winston-Salem State
As we continue our ongoing series Our America: The HBCU Experience, we visit Winston-Salem State University.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As we continue our ongoing series Our America: The HBCU Experience, we visit Winston-Salem State University -- reportedly the most 'Instagrammed' college in North Carolina.

It's a special place for one of our own at ABC11.

This is from Tim Pulliam:

If home is where the heart is, mine is at Winston-Salem State University.

As a first generation college student, I was determined to get an education through the HBCU experience.

In 2006, I served as Senior Class King during homecoming, historically one of the biggest moments each fall in Black culture. But my time and energy was mostly spent inside Hall-Patterson-honing my skills as a reporter and anchor for Ram News.

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Not far from the Pasquotank River in northeast North Carolina is a historically Black university that often gets overlooked.

Todd Davis was my professor and adviser. We re-connected in-person for the first time in more than a decade for this story.

"You took me under your wing and you gave me an opportunity," I told him. "Because of you. I have the foundation of what it means to work in news."

"Thank you. That's high praise. I can open the door, but students have to walk through it," Davis said. "And that's something unique about the HBCU experience; we focus on student success and we want students to try new things."

That's what WSSU's founder Dr. Simon Green Atkins desired for the formerly enslaved. On September 28, 1892, Slater Industrial Academy was born in one room with one teacher and 25 students.

"He was very, very futuristic in that he did not look at the state of where it is, but what he could envision for our people," said Dr. Elva Jones, a legendary educator at WSSU and 1970 Alumnus. The university's computer science building is named in her honor.

Chancellor Elwood Robinson said Atkins' ideals about educating Black people inspire him every day.

"They asked him the question, 'What will you teach at the institution?' And he answered that question with a question that drives me every day. And he said, 'What do they teach at Harvard? And what do they teach at the world's great universities and that's what I will teach here at this University,'" Robinson said.

WATCH: Chancellor Robinson on the HBCU experience at WSSU

"We're putting out into the world a new group of entrepreneurs, business folks that are changing lives."

In 1925, The school was renamed Winston-Salem Teachers college, becoming the first Black institution in the nation to award degrees in elementary education.

It became Winston-Salem State College and later Winston-Salem State University in 1969. It became one of the 16 constituent institutions in the University of North Carolina system.

Today the 117-acre campus is a $500 million economic engine to the Triad, boasting a top ranked nursing department and more than 40 bachelor degree program, 9 master's degree programs, and two doctoral programs. College Magazine even named it among the top 10 HBCUs changing the world.

"When I came to WSSU I was still in the process of figuring out who Dyamond was. I really didn't know who I was and who I wanted to be," said Dyamond Carr, WSSU's student body president.

The junior is now double majoring in Political Science and English with the goal of becoming a lawyer.

The WSSU student body is made up of approximately 5500 students. Anastasia Morrison, a double history major, is an indigenous student from Canada. She represents nearly 25 percent of WSSU students who don't identify as Black.

"I think it's changed my life for the better. I'm more immersed in my own culture, but I'm also at the same time learning a different culture. And I get to teach my culture as they teach me theirs," Morrison said.

G'Avonte Hayes from Richmond, Virginia, is an Internet Technology major. He believes choosing the HBCU experience is the best decision he ever made.

"Because I'm around so many minorities and people that care about you--it changed me and changed my way of thinking," Hayes said.

WATCH: WSSU alumni talk about what the university means to them

"The HBCU saved my life." | "It has meant everything to me." | "It's changed my life for the better."

I can relate. WSSU gave me a tangible glimpse into my future, and it connected me with classmates who credit WSSU for helping them soar in their careers.

Chico Bean is a nationally known comedian, entertainer and this year's host of the BET Hip Hop Awards. It's his second time hosting the show.

"I thought I was a man before Winston Salem State, but I became a man there," he said.

Brian "B Daht" McLaughlin graduated from WSSU. He has a popular morning radio show in the Triangle, he's been on MTV's Wildin Out and he recently hosted Late Night at UNC.

"To get to WSSU and be able to hone a skill set that I didn't know what I want to do with--I'm super appreciative of Winston Salem State," said B Daht. "The HBCU saved my life."

Vicki Smith Bradley is now a TV news executive in Florida.

"It has meant everything to me to have that perspective--especially in an industry where we are just now getting to a point where African Americans are being celebrated the way we should be," Bradley said.

ABC11 alum and four-time Emmy award winning journalist Nicole Carr also attended WSSU.

"I didn't choose Winston Salem state. Winston-Salem State Chose me. I knew it from the moment I walked on campus. There's a feeling there. And you know where you're supposed to be," Carr said.

Chancellor Robinson shared his 20 year vision for WSSU with ABC11.

"In 10-15 years is that every graduation--we're putting out into the world a new group of entrepreneurs, business folks that are changing lives," he said.

Upholding WSSU's motto: Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.