Heavy is the head that wears the crown, especially on an HBCU Campus. On an episode of “The Campus Rundown” hosted by Former 75th Mr. Bowie State Univeristy, Najee Farewell. We spoke with past and current HBCU Kings about personal and mental health, what it is to be an HBCU King, Royal Court and more. Featured in this segment we have Austin Reid (Former 8th Mr. Oakwood University), Justin Branch (19th Mr. Lincoln University of Missouri), Christian Broussard (Former 18th Mr. Houston-Tillotson University), Taylor Getwood (Current 21st Mr. Texas Southern University), Treveon Hayes (Current Mr. Tennesse State University), along with Zai B. (Former 31st Mr. Virginia State Univeristy and 18th Mr. Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
Royal courts, where class, elegance and prestige reign. A unique group of students that serve as Royalty on HBCU campuses under their Leadership Teams and Advisory Boards. Promoting leadership and excellence throughout campus with their initiatives and ideas. Representing not only themselves but the embodiment of their institution and what it means to be excellence, school pride and ambassadorship.
It can be tough, holding a leadership position at an institution and expected to be the definition of excellence no matter the time nor place. The Kings explain what made them choose to run for King, how they maintained and what kept them going. Christian says, “As a freshman I initially didn’t want to run for Royal Court, as I matriculated through college I’ve done everything I can on campus except being Mr. Houston-Tillotson University. I felt like I was growing but could grow more in that position. It was a position I wanted to take on and make a difference within myself and my campus.”
Ausitn goes on to say, “Feeling mostly the same but my senior year, transferring from my previous HBCU that didn’t have a Royal Court, seeing everything that comes from being a part of Royal Court was amazing to me and I saw myself doing that. I was an introvert but running for Royal Court got me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be the face, the leader and use that to broaden my horizons. Being Mr. Lincoln University of Missouri and the campus liaison was amazing and a dream come true.”
Najee agreeing while adding that he knew the moment he stepped foot on campus his freshmen year that he was well aware of what he wanted to do. “High school I won Prom King, I love suits, dressing up and the importance of being a King and the culture it originates from. It’s not just an HBCU thing but more so from our roots. Being Kings and Queens in Africa and to be able to integrate that culture into our HBCUs is dope. Leadership, feeling like it was my time and having what it takes to fulfill that position. Despite it being tough because it was around COVID during my reign, I still had fun and made differences on campus.” Didn’t expect any of the sessions or breakouts and realized allot of the Kings were going through the same things. Whether they were Greek, family deaths, relationship breakups, big things that were happening in their lives and being able to see everyone’s story and find out you’re not the only one going through things on campus. Finally having the space to let it our and creating life lasting bonds.
For Christian, the perception was always since you’re a Mister of an HBCU that you get all of these great things to come along with the position such as clothes, popularity and more that other students don’t normally receive. But like he’s told every student, he’s a regular student same as them. The crown and sash makes him no different and he carries the legacy is all. He likes to make students feel they are all equal and make the crown and not let it make him. “Managing being a King on campus was always a bit tough because everyone expects perfection from you and almost to be a superhero and we’re not.”, says Christian. The Mr. HBCU competition especially last year did a great job on highlighting black men and mental health because it was something that we don’t really talk about and as Black men we rarely express our emotions. Getting a chance to speak on this topic and have each King bring something different to the table about the topic was amazing. Also having those intimate sessions where they spoke about the problems we’ve been through in life and how we’ve made it to today, being able to share that moment with everyone was amazing because he didn’t walk in with the mindset of crying but ended up doing so. Also going on to say, “The Mr. HBCU Competition especially last year did a great job on highlighting Black men and mental health because it was something that we don’t really talk about and as Black men we rarely express our emotions. Getting a chance to speak on this topic and have each King bring something different to the table about the topic was amazing. Also having those intimate sessions where they spoke about the problems we’ve been through in life and how we’ve made it to today, being able to share that moment with everyone was amazing. I didn’t walk in with the mindset of crying but ended up doing so.”
Austin feels like while holding that position, people look at you as the face while expecting so much for you. You wake up everyday wanting a purpose, to make a difference and when you bring mental health into the conversation then you’re expected to do so much but no one pours into you. Manage your time and personal life, most importantly we’re still human at the end of the day. We have our position but we have to make sure to maintain ourselves at the end of the day. It can take lot out of you, you’re afraid to mess up along with being Greek you have to maintain a certain image. The Mr. HBCU Competiton had to be one of the best experiences he’s had as King. The breakout sessions were needed, there’s so much to be expected of HBCU Kings and the conference and pageant was an opportunity and week for them to be vulnerable and themselves in a space with their peers. As a student leader just to get that time to work on mental health, personally he turns his phone off at a certain time and focuses on himself. Somewhat being selfish while adding that you have to sometimes being a student leader. Mental health is important as a student leader and the conference was amazing and built lifelong connections.
Treveon, being authentic and having to be the one who stands up, facing the odds all while showing and motivating his peers. He pushes for greater, never giving up and believing in himself while always pushing for excellence. “Being an HBCU King is something to really adjust to, I’ve always been one to do great works behind the scenes. I had to come out of my shell so I could do better and be better for myself. Remaining confident and staying firm despite it being hard having that attention and pressure, believing in myself and the vision I had for my institution. Mental health is something serious, it’s something we don’t take light of. People don’t see what you go through behind the scenes. We have to become more comfortable with going to counseling, listening to each other and sharing the light with the next generation so they’re aware. A King is someone who stands up when all odds are against them, speaking nothing but the truth and carries a passion to educate the next generation of leaders to push for excellence while believing in themselves when others don’t at times. A King has a vision that is so untouchable that no matter what people say or do, it cannot become damaged. That’s a King in my eyes, being courageous and having a passion that never dies.”, says Travion.
Taylor agreeing mostly while adding to stay on your books despite the school year ending. “Just trying to be all around, practice what you preach and commit to graduation. Despite Homecoming and all other events, make sure I’m on track to graduate along with my peers. It’s more than just the everyday struggles of a King, from COVID to personal things. It can be alot but hold your head high.
Mental health is something that is extremely important across the board. COVID-19 was everything we didn’t want to see, it forced us to acknowledge that mental health is the most important thing in anyone’s life. If you’re not mentally capable of doing anything, how can you complete it? My institution is taking mental health very seriously with counseling centers, upgrading the number of students brought in. Personally, I pride himself on serving as a face and working. Him along with my fellow Queen with the Career Center on campus to help students on campus while making sure everyone is good mentally.
I’m grateful to Tennessee State Univeristy for making sure we’re mentally stable. No one truly understands how mental health truly impacts them until you show them, which is a job we pride ourselves in. It was pretty much easy taking on the role of King, I’ve always been the same person whether I’m in the camera or not. Always helping people, I use it as my motivation as to why I do what I do. I’m here to empower, help others and motivate. It can become very tiring, we are human beings at the end of the day.
Tapping in and tapping out, a method I learned at the Kings and Queens conference in New Orleans helps protect my mental space while making sure I get things done. It helps me inspire others despite having a bad day and in return makes my days better. Being Mr. TSU for me is more or less about representation. We all know about 40% of Black males graduate from college. We still have a whole chunk of the percentage that doesn’t graduate, so being that representation alongside my Queen says alot. Being Mr. TSU is more than just serving as a face, it’s actually being able to motivate everyone on campus. It’s never a competition between me and my Queen, we are a team. Being able to have both an educated Black King and Queen together is amazing. Being a King to me is being a representation of every Black boy that wishes to go to college.”
Zai says, “Being a Black student leader was a big struggle for me. It’s hard because you have to be a superhero. During my reign at Virginia State University I was Activities Sports President, so I was always planning events, running around campus and on top of all of that, having the struggles of being a Black man. Being an educated Black man is dangerous, for example, working in corporate America you walk in with a nice suit and education and a lot of folks don’t know how to handle that. At the same time, it’s a gift that we often time don’t speak on the positivity it comes with as well. Being in the spotlight to me is easy, the thing I think I messed up with during my reign was I tried too hard to be perfect. I lost myself in trying to be perfect and it took the HBCU Competition for me to enjoy my reign. There’s a thin line between not being authentic and not being humble. I prayed God, my mother and grandmother would help me out, once I got to my next reign, I was fine. Mental health is extremely important, at first, I didn’t but once my reign went on, I did dedicate a day every week to myself to protect my mental health. The pageant helped completely by creating those conversations with black men with mental health.”
Austin following up saying, “Honestly my whole platform was structured around uplifting Black males and putting your best foot forward. Being a Black man, the education for the us specifically is important. I wasn’t initially going to go to college, I was going to try and chase my dreams in Los Angeles. I started realizing a few things, such as wanting to put my best foot forward as a Black man, having a degree that would put my name and presence in places I never thought I could be because being a Black man we already are ten steps behind, so you always want to put your best foot forward. For me I’ve kind of had a vision of the King I wanted to be in college and even before. I knew my junior year I wanted to run for 8th Mr. Oakwood University and having that mindset made sure that everything aligned with my goals and bigger visions. Being my authentic self, having to say no to parties, keeping up a presentable image and putting my best foot forward led me to that point with the spotlight coming after. The camera, lights and speaking to people were easy because I know these people already and by my senior year, I was completely ready. I’m a very extroverted person so a lot of times people don’t understand that we need time to recharge as well. There’s not enough conversation with men being vulnerable with their emotions. Crying is natural, it’s human and during my reign there’s plenty of times I’ve been upset and cried. I also took days for myself to take a breather and keep my mental health up. There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to having roles in campus all while trying to graduate. I came to the realization that sometimes you have to chill and give your body time to rest.”
Truly amazing young men who uphold their crowns and make impacts through their respective institutions. You can follow these young men on Instagram and watch the full episode with the links below.