Echoes

Coming Home

Dana Williams-Johnson remembers when a pin changed her life.

by Dana Williams-Johnson (B.A. '00)
Dana Williams-Johnson

The evening was humid and warm and smelled like Summer. As I walked onto the Yard with my parents, my stomach tightened with knots. Will I like my roommate? Would I make friends? How will I do in my classes? What would I do without my mom and dad? How was I going to survive in this city alone?

It was August 1996. I was a wide-eyed freshman, assigned to Frazier Hall in the Quad and definitely not ready to be away from home. I was not a stranger to Howard University – my sisters, Helen (B.S. ’91) and Anne (B.A. ’95), both went to Howard. But it was different now that it was my turn.

As we filed into the rows of folding chairs, then sat and listened to the president speak, I noticed other faces like mine, just as nervous, just as curious as I was. I didn’t feel so alone. Our class was unique because we were graduating in the year 2000. It seemed so far away and futuristic, but the number made it special.

Howard University Pins

At one point in the ceremony, Howard University pins were handed out. We were asked to turn to another student and pin them. As the pin went into my T-shirt, I thought: “Maybe I really could be a Bison. Maybe this is just the beginning.” That little pin gave me hope.

Through the years, whenever I wore that same pin, it gave me pride. I was a Bison. I always came back: for Homecoming, as a guest lecturer and eventually as an adjunct professor.

In 2018 I accepted a position as a full-time instructor in the marketing department of the School of Business. As I walked to the new faculty orientation at the Interdisciplinary Research Building, I had a strange sense of déjà vu. I was anxious and nervous; questions were swirling in my head. Would I be good at teaching full time? Would my students enjoy my classes? Should I get my doctorate? Was this the right decision for me?

As I chatted with other new faculty, some of whom I already knew from my days as an adjunct, my nerves calmed a bit. At the end, there was a pinning ceremony. The orientation leader passed pins out and welcomed us all as new faculty to Howard University. I kept swirling that pin around in my palm, feeling all the things I felt back in 1996. I was a Bison. I was home.

Dana Williams-Johnson is a full-time instructor in the marketing department in the School of Business and a full-time doctoral student in the Communications Culture and Media Studies program in the School of Communications.

This story appears in the Spring 2021 issue.

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