For those of you who have read the JassOdyssey series, you know that Miles and Roland traveled along the Chitlin’ Circuit in search of something that was stolen from them. While doing so, Miles got a chance to visit some colleges. Roland specifically wanted Miles to visit his alma mater Virginia State University, also known as VSU, which is located in Ettrick Virginia, not far from Richmond.
In writing this historical fantasy book on Jazz, I decided to highlight the colleges and universities that Miles and Roland visited, as well as the other HBCUs that they didn’t get a chance to see. Periodically in this blog we’ll discuss some interesting facts about each. Since VSU was the first university that Miles and Roland visited, we’ll start there first.
VSU, a public institution, was founded in 1882. It is one of Virginia’s two land-grant institutions, though there are other HBCUs in the Commonwealth. VSU developed as the country’s first fully state-supported four-year institution of higher learning for black Americans. The school currently has a little more than four-thousand students. Its school colors are orange and blue, and has a Trojan as its mascot. The school offers bachelors, masters, as well as doctoral degrees in its myriad programs. It lives by its motto “Building a Better World.”
VSU provides a setting allowing its students to grow academically. It also provides the other amenities that HBCUs are famous for including its social life, school spirit, its marching band, greek life, athletics, homecoming activities, black life, and a nurturing environment.
The school is proud of its alumni, which include Reginald Lewis, who during the 1980s was one of the richest African-Americans in the country. He was the first African-American to build a billion-dollar company. Another alumnus was Oliver Hill, who was a civil rights attorney and heavily involved in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision.
Billy Taylor, a jazz educator who traveled worldwide as a jazz ambassador, was also a graduate of Virginia State University. He was a pianist, composer, broadcaster and educator. Perhaps in the JassOdyssey series, if Miles is lucky enough to get accepted at VSU and goes back in time while on campus, he might get a chance to meet and jam with Taylor. Miles also liked the idea of attending “Jazz On The Hill,” an annual event held on the campus highlighting jazz and its musicians.
A famous spokesperson for the school is Daphne Maxwell Reid. You probably remember her as ‘Aunt Viv” in the TV sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” which featured Will Smith.
VSU is just one of over a hundred HBCUs that can be found across this country. As you read the ii-V-I book series, think about Miles and his uncle as they criss-cross this country. If you visit my previous blog entitled College Road Trip, you’ll have a little traveling music to accompany you. That song, as well as others can also be streamed from iTunes, Spotify, as well as other streaming services. Enjoy!
J. A. Rollins