If you’ve ever stepped foot on an HBCU campus, I’d bet you it wasn’t more than 5 minutes before you spotted a knockout outfit. A Howard graduate myself, I know firsthand the way that HBCU students show up and show out, even if it’s just for something as simple as an early a morning math class. Jamila Toussaint, Ms. Black USA 2021 and a fellow Bison, shares those sentiments.
“Being from Minnesota, it’s not really a thing to dress up, look good and take care of yourself,” she tells me during our chat at the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic, an annual HBCU basketball tournament helmed by Michael B. Jordan. “Actually, when you do that, people kind of look at you and think, ‘Where’s she going?'”
Upon her arrival at Howard, however, she quickly realized that wouldn’t be the case. “I remember first time I stepped foot on the campus, I was just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s always a fashion show and at the time, I was probably in like a white tee and some jeans.”
The change of scenery transformed how she began presenting to the world. “It forced me to put my best foot forward and focus on being a more polished individual,” she shares.
It changed not only how she behaved on campus, but how she moved once she graduated and entered the real world. “It’s something that carries over into professional world,” she says. “You’re not shy to stand up and speak out and look your best and play with fashion and play with beauty. I don’t have to downplay myself for anyone around me. That’s what Howard did for me.” Toussaint lists HBCU Homecoming as one of the greatest displays of style, recollecting the shock and awe that came with her freshman year celebration.
“Going to an HBCU showed me all the variations of blackness,” she says. “When I first told people in my high school I was going to Howard they tried to tell me that it wouldn’t be diverse, but that’s just not the case.” In fact, it proved the opposite. “It was the most diverse experience I’ve ever had in my life,” she explains. “You see all the different types of fashion and styles. You have the Afrocentric style, you have the beauty queens, you have the Greeks and so much more. It just shows you all the variety of our people, all the ways that we can play with our hair, the way we can play with our fashions.”
And let Toussaint tell it, her HBCU experience it’s one of the many reasons for success in pageants. In fact, the Ms. Black USA pageant resulted in triumph on her first try. “It was my first pageant experience, but I remember seeing like friends trying out for the Howard pageants because that culture is so big on campus,” she says. “I saw the transformation that they underwent stepping onto that stage, that’s their first impression of you.”
Check out recaps from the 2021 Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic and make plans for next year on prucenter.com.