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Cassius x HBCU Edition

Source: @eyesunphotography / Eye Sun Photography for Cassius

DJ Heat, Tahir “Mr. Legacy” Murray, Darren Brand, & Desmond A. Wiggan Jr. forged paths to success at their respective alma maters.

 

Historically black colleges and universities, largely known as HBCUs, have long stood as a beacon of opportunity for Black students across the nation. These revered institutions served as foundational spaces where careers were forged and these four individuals all found their life paths while attending their respective HBCUs while adding to that rich and lasting legacy.

The history of HBCUs extends all the way back to 1837 with the establishment of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest of such institutions. As the decades rolled on, several HBCUs cropped up across the southern states. In 1862, the Morrill Act was enacted and 17 states mandated that land grant colleges be racially segregated. The Agricultural College Act of 1890 ushered in a new era of land grant colleges for Black students if they were barred from attending an existing land grant college due to their race thus the boom of HBCUs expanded further.

For our cover story, we had the honor of speaking with a talented quartet of individuals across several industries within the tech, sports, fashion, and entertainment sectors. What rang equally true among these emerging leaders of their fields is an undeniable sense of gratitude for living and learning through the HBCU experience.

 

DJ Heat — Morgan State University

Cassius x HBCU Edition

Source: @eyesunphotography / Eye Sun Photography for Cassius

DJ Heat is a name known across the Nation’s Capitol, especially for fans of the Washington Mystics and the Washington Wizards. Armed with an outsized personality that is often displayed when she’s on the turntables, the Morgan State University alum shared a portion of her journey.

“I am a very proud Morgan State alum indeed. We are the Bears! I graduated from Morgan in 2002 and my major was Communications Studies with a focus on Radio Production,” Heat began.

When asked about her time at Morgan and what she gained from her time there, Heat graciously explained how college expanded her worldview.

“My experience was an amazing one and very eye-opening, in a good way. Like many young people, it was my first experience of being on my own as an adult and interacting with people from all different walks of life,” Heat began.

She continued,” Some people don’t realize how multicultural an HBCU is. Not only are the cultures of other cities interacting with each other but students from other countries as well. One of the key lessons I learned that prepared me for the future was the power of networking. I had professors that stressed reaching out, attending campus events, getting to know others outside of your major, and more. Those networking skills laid the foundation for me to be able to have the success that I experience to this day.”

Before she became the globetrotting figure we know today, a young DJ Heat found inspiration from what might seem to be an unlikely source.

“The funny thing that inspired it though, and don’t laugh, was the Wreckx-n-Effect’s ‘Rumpshaker’ remix,” Heat said. “That remix had a part at the end where a DJ was scratching. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and every time the song came on the radio I would pretend I was a DJ. When I was 13, I said the heck with pretending and purchased my first set of turntables with the money saved from my summer job.”

Although women DJs are now more of a fixture on the club and social media scene, DJ Heat says early pioneers like DJ Lazy K were some of her influences, especially in the high period of the mixtape era that was dominated primarily by male DJs. She also credits DJ D-Nice as another influence, taking note of how he managed to use the pandemic shutdown to reintroduce himself to a global audience via social media.

Like any other success story, DJ Heat faced adversity and circumstances beyond her control but didn’t allow it to deter her from the goal.

“I will share one of the current lessons that I keep telling myself these days, and that I also share with others—that lesson is to not put a time limit on yourself,” Heat began.

“And what I mean by that is to not think that you’re ‘too old’ to do something, or even think that something that you’re passionate about trying to accomplish is never going to happen. There is no age limit on success.”

“I’m on one of the best trajectories I’ve ever been on in my career currently. Imagine if I said, ‘If this doesn’t happen by the time I’m 30, I’m gonna quit.’ What if Sheryl Lee Ralph said years ago she’s going to stop acting if she doesn’t win any awards by the time she’s 60? The late Dorothy Steele was 88 when she got her first acting role ever in Black Panther.”

“As long as the passion is inside of you, never put an age limit on what you want to accomplish. And also realize the obstacles make us appreciate that success more. I applied for the Wizards and Mystics DJ job five different times before I finally got hired. If deep down inside you have a goal that you want real bad, you WILL get it.”

As the DJ for the Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards, Heat’s dreams were further crystalized considering her early days inside the arena in a different capacity.

“I’ve always been a huge basketball fan, and especially a fan of my hometown teams. To be the DJ for both teams is amazing. It was a full circle moment for me with the Mystics because I was a ball girl during their inaugural season, and it was during their 20th anniversary season that I became their DJ,” Heat shared.

“Then one year after that is when I was offered the job for the Wizards spot. Working for both teams has brought about amazing experiences. I just recently went to Japan with the Wizards to DJ the NBA Japan Games. I can’t forget about the Mystics’ 2019 championship run as well. It’s still a surreal moment for me. It’s opened so many other opportunities for me.”

It would appear that DJ Heat has landed squarely within her purpose but there is a hunger for more, as she expressed in her usual eloquent fashion.

“My next steps are to continue to elevate and expand the brand. I often tell my close friends that my goal is to reach that D-Nice level with being THE DJ that major brands and corporations all over the globe reach out to,” Heat explained.

“I plan on getting back to interviewing people in the industry again and launching a new podcast. Yes, some people think that the market is oversaturated. But the truth is, it’s oversaturated with a lot of ‘junk food’ as I call it. Empty calories and no substance. When I interview guests, I make sure both the viewers and the person I’m interviewing are being fed knowledge and substance.”

In closing, DJ Heat made certain to hammer home the point that HBCUs have a lot to offer to prospective students, including those who may be mulling over the decision to attend one.

“There’s nothing to consider. Just do it! HBCUs are just as important to us now as they were in their early days,” Heat said.

She concluded with, “We’ve seen what has happened in this country the past few years. We’ve seen the exodus of college athletes transferring from PWIs to HBCUs. Now more than ever, we need each other, we need HBCUs, and we need to keep passing the torch of HBCU education for generations to come. Of course, I am going to suggest Morgan State to any and everyone. But I will also say that choosing an HBCU PERIOD is the right choice overall.”

Follow DJ Heat on social media at DJHeatDC on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.

Desmond A. Wiggan Jr. — Winston-Salem State University

Cassius x HBCU Edition

Source: @eyesunphotography / Eye Sun Photography for Cassius

The vast world of technology has seen a recent resurgence in terms of diversity and innovation from those hailing from underrepresented communities. Winston-Salem State University alum Desmond A. Wiggan Jr., CEO, and founder of BatteryXChange, is a young tech and business leader who humbly recognizes that his time at an HBCU set him on a path that could transform the lives of many.

“I had no understanding of HBCUs growing up in New York until moving south in my middle school years and that was my first exposure and experience with HBCUs, Greek life, and homecoming traditions,” Wiggan began.

“I would always hear stories from people in my network about their experiences. It was always a different type of love and appreciation they all shared regardless of their university,” Wiggan added.

“As a track and field athlete, I was fielding offers from several regional colleges and universities but my desire was to land a full scholarship so my parents wouldn’t have that burden of paying. My future coach, Blake, who is no longer with us, told me I had a full ride waiting for me and how important it was to build up my foundation within the university space. I gained independence as expected but I also gained a whole new family.”

Wiggan fondly recalls his freshman year at WSSU and connecting with his fellow students at the clock tower in the central portion of the campus into the wee hours of the morning. But it was the election of a certain beloved president, Barack Obama, that cemented to Wiggan that he made the right choice to attend an HBCU.

“I remember that the campus was flooded with everyone blasting Jeezy’s ‘My President is Black,’ and I remember everyone who looked like me, came where I came from, all rejoicing and just feeling full of hope,” Wiggan said.

“I believe my best lessons came from the Beta Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha of which I am a member, and taking advantage of the development opportunities and programs across the campus. Also, just being on the yard, connecting with people, and learning their stories. Early on, I didn’t know who I was but my college experience molded me into the man I am today.”

Wiggan’s foray into the worlds of tech and business was inspired by his father and grandfather. Being of Jamaican heritage, the value of hard work was instilled in him early.

“My family is from Jamaica and those characteristics of being a very hard worker, being resourceful, and doing things with purpose are things that are in my blood,” Wiggan shared.

“Then understanding what it meant to take risks and sacrifice was exposed to me at an early age. I always wanted to make life easier for people. I felt I could solve everyday problems for people utilizing technology. I just didn’t know what problem I would solve,” Wiggan said in a foreshadowing moment of realization.

Wiggan went on to obtain an MBA from a PWI which allowed him to study abroad in China. While there, Wiggan established a network of contacts that landed him a position at a technology firm that exposed him to robotics, AI, blockchain, and other industries. Wiggan also recognized the dearth of other Black faces in the space, prompting him to take what he learned back to the communities that could benefit from his experience.

BatteryXChange is brilliant in its effectiveness and simplicity. It offers its users an on-the-go charging option by way of a battery complete with a dongle that can charge phones, earbuds, Bluetooth speakers, and more. Once you’re done using the battery, return the depleted pack to a BatteyXChange location for the next user searching for some juice via a handy app.

“BatteryXchange is on-demand access to mobile energy for everyone. We’ve built kiosk machines that dispense portable batteries that people can rent via our mobile app, similar to scooters, bikes, and the like,” Wiggan explained.

“After they’re all charged up, they can return it to any kiosk machine within our network. These kiosks are present at hospitals, professional sports venues, convention centers, restaurants, and other industries.”

“The company was created while I was in China after a long day of traveling. Having a dead cell phone and that being the only source of connectivity to Uber and my loved ones. I also didn’t speak the language to haggle and find a charger and that’s when a moment of ‘why isn’t there a more convenient way to charge a device while on the go away from home’ sprung to mind. That is when the opportunity presented itself to provide that solution.”

Wiggan was an attendee of the Invest Fest event in Atlanta back in August of this year where he pitched the concept of BatteryXChange to a packed crowd of over 10,000 people. Wiggan shared what the journey of delivering and eventually winning the pitch felt like overall.

“Over the last few years, I’ve had to resort to pitching virtually and there were a lot of ups and downs with that process. Invest Fest was my first opportunity after several years to connect with people in person, share the journey of BatteryXchange and talk about what we’re building,” Wiggan said.

“There were over 10,000 beautiful, motivated black people in attendance and I shared the stage with the likes of Steve Harvey, Tyler Perry, Rick Ross, and many others. At the end of my pitch, the crowd cheered and roared in support of my business winning the top spot and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences that I have had and will forever remember.”

As Wiggan expands the BatteryXChange network and gets kiosks placed in spaces where they would most be needed, he hasn’t lost the wonderment of discovery and believes that students looking to enter an HBCU can enter a world that will transform their lives for the better.

“HBCUs are important because the lineage extends back to our ancestors, the very people who made a way for us to be the spaces we’re in now,” Wiggan concluded.

“With our continued investment into HBCUs, we can further help people that come from where we come from, and it’s our duty to provide opportunities for them to be their best selves in those very important early adult years.”

Follow Desmond A. Wiggan Jr. at worldwidewiggs_ on Instagram.

Tahir “Mr. Legacy” Murray — Howard University

Cassius x HBCU Edition

Source: @eyesunphotography / Eye Sun Photography for Cassius

If one thing is wholly true about attending an HBCU, nothing exemplifies pride better than wearing clothing items that represent your institution. Tahir “Mr. Legacy” Murray, a graduate of Howard University, realized that notion early on and the creation of his brand LegacyHistoryPride is an extension of connecting, simply put, the important legacy, history, and pride of HBCUs to the world of fashion.

Murray, who graduated from Howard in 2021, credits his time at the school as an essential step in helping him realize his path in fashion. The connections made during his time on campus fortified his vision, inspiring him and his peers beyond their wildest dreams.

“My Bison family welcomed me with open arms and inspired me since the day I stepped foot on campus,” Murray began regarding his early days at Howard.

“The chance to be fully immersed in a rich and robust atmosphere definitely sharpened the person I was and prepared me for who I wanted to be. From faculty to students, it was amazing to be in a place where people are so heavily invested in my growth and development as a student and as a young man.“

“Early on, I not only valued the importance of these relationships but also the importance of taking what I learned, reaching back, and pouring that into someone else. True leaders are selfless and committed to things greater than themselves and this is what I took notice of in the various student leaders on campus. They were strongly committed to their own personal success and the success of others.”

Murray made mention of the camaraderie and school pride that helped him lean into the student lifestyle and place him alongside other driven individuals who were all empowered by not just their instructors, but also their peers to achieve whatever goals lay ahead of them. While Howard certainly inspired Murray’s business choices, it was his own family that truly created that first spark.

“My family gave me my first inside scoop on the fashion world. My grandfather, Ortner “Von” Murray, and my Dad, Gerard Murray, owned the first Black-owned Nike account in the United States and sold sneakers and apparel from my grandfather’s store, Von’s Sneaker Store, in Queens, N.Y.,” Murray said.

“In the midst of acquiring the Nike account, my dad founded the School of Hard Knocks, a streetwear brand inspired by his upbringing in New York and his love for Hip-Hop and street culture. As a kid, I spent countless hours in the store. My school bus dropped me off at the store.”

“Saturdays were spent at the store. Everything was about the store. The store was my playground and it was my first love. People who know my family and the store know that community is the root of it all. My grandfather and dad built more than just a sneaker and streetwear brand. The impact they made left a mark in the apparel business and their community that is still talked about to this day. They are the pioneers that showed us how the apparel business is much deeper than clothes.”

While Murray began LegacyHistoryPride back in 2019 while still attending class at Howard, he dipped heavily into the fashion game prior to college as a high school student.

“My love for community and the business of fashion inspired me to start printing tees at the age of 14 and my journey progressed into what you see today through LegacyHistoryPride,” Murray said.

“Since a young age, I’ve been able to soak up knowledge from my family’s business while also exploring and learning on my own. I am grateful to have learned so much by watching and listening to my family as they maneuvered in various ways because of fashion. I’m proud to say that I am carrying my family’s legacy in apparel and I hope to take my vision to a whole new level.”

Murray then went on to explain the deeper history behind LegacyHistory Pride.

“LHP is here to provide substance, build history, and bring authenticity into every garment we make. From men’s cardigans and women’s fleece tops to preppy varsity jackets and more, the common thread is heritage,” Murray said.

“We strive to awaken and strengthen a sense of pride by carefully designing tailor-made apparel that evokes the richness and uniqueness synonymous to the culture whose foundation we stand upon.”

“With every LHP sale, a portion of the proceeds specifically benefits the College or University through our Licensing Agreements. Beyond that, LHP is a proud partner with the Atlanta HBCU Alumni Alliance to work toward the growth of scholarships and opportunities for prospective and current HBCU students. Our apparel is designed to embrace the innovative possibilities of fashion.”

Murray’s passion for fashion and, in turn, legacy, is evident from the lessons he’s learned as he continues to grow a budding business that counts Chris Paul and other celebrities as clients.

“You go fast alone, but further together. This by far is the biggest lesson I have learned so far. From working with my various collaborators both internally and externally, I’ve been able to tap in with perspectives that offer fresh, new insight while also sharpening my own,” Murray shared.

“Having the ability to create with not only my friends but also several people I look up to, makes the work a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling. Early on I used to think that I could do it all by myself and I learned that that is the easiest way to burn out mentally, physically, and even emotionally. Eating at a table with others is a lot better than eating alone. Work together, build together, and treat people right. It is that simple. Following that formula, I’ve been able to expand my businesses and surround myself with individuals that I love working with.”

While LegacyHistoryPride positions itself as a fashion brand, Murray isn’t content with limiting LHP to apparel. He intends to put his creative energy into the furniture, fragrances, and even filmmaking spaces

“I don’t want to limit LHP to just fashion or clothes. I see the vision more as an expression – a means to illustrate parts of a culture that is so dynamic and rich, and I don’t want to box that into just fashion. The more that I get to travel and collaborate with others, the more I get to see the endless opportunities for creating impact. ‘Product with a purpose’ is what I like to call it, and I don’t want to limit our product, and the lens to see our culture, to just an article of clothing,” Murray said with unflinching directness.

By way of collaborations with the NBA, WNBA, Nike, and more in the pipeline, Murray is hoping to connect and expand the brand of LegacyHistoryPride as far as he can take it.

In closing, Murray believes that his HBCU education was a vital step in his ongoing entrepreneurial story and thinks potential students should consider the path.

“Follow your heart most importantly. You’ll know what school is right for you. Do your research and visit as many campuses as you can. You won’t know until you go,” Murray said.

“And if you are not 100 percent sure where you want to go to school, I strongly encourage you to at least visit one HBCU.

“My senior year of high school, I had no idea of which school I wanted to attend. After visiting over a dozen schools, I visited Howard and didn’t visit another school after. I stepped on campus and immediately felt goosebumps. My first visits to Howard were days I will never forget.”

Tahir “Mr. Legacy” Murray can be found at by.mrlegacy on Instagram.

Darren “Big Baby” Brand – North Carolina A&T University

Cassius x HBCU Edition

Source: @eyesunphotography / Eye Sun Photography for Cassius

Darren “Big Baby” Brand wears a number of hats as a comedian, actor, and all-around businessman. The North Carolina native kept things, ahem, on-brand by attending North Carolina State A&T State University, where he honed his comedic chops on campus en route to helping co-found the Freestyle Funny Comedy Show (FFCS).

Brimming with Aggie Pride, the Graphics Communications major is a natural storyteller and in our chat, Big Baby says his time at North Carolina A&T is an experience he can hardly put into words.

“My time at A&T was priceless, and a lot of stuff I can’t talk about from that time,” Brand begins, doing so with his signature chuckle.

“But I believe HBCUs are where you find out who you are, how you find yourself as a Black person. I was taught to love myself, be proud of myself, and gain confidence being around people that looked like me all the time.”

“Being loved and being celebrated at A&T helped to grow into being a stand-up comedian, host, and entrepreneur. That all came from the hustle of attending an HBCU.”

Like most successful people, Brand knew from early on what his career path was. For those who follow his career on social media, his expert ease in front of the camera along with his charm and wit garnered him well over half a million followers on Instagram alone.

“I always knew I wanted to be a comedian,” Brand says. “I was watching Def Comedy Jam at an age when I wasn’t supposed to be watching such things: BET Comic View, Chappelle’s Show, Key & Peele, Wild ’N Out.”

“All of these shows made me fall in love with comedy. And those shows are why I co-founded the Freestyle Funny [Comedy Show] with myself, Chico Bean, BDhat, and Burpie, and we’re all products of HBCUs. We pushed each other to get into comedy and to take our style of improv comedy and stand-up comedy, along with our college experiences, to the stage.”

Brand credits his FFCS co-founders, comedian OsamaBinDrankin, and his mentor Ronny Jordan as consistent inspirations in pursuing the craft of comedy. He mentioned Jamie Foxx and Cedric The Entertainer as his favorite comics of all time.

“Chasing the thrill of making people laugh, it’s honestly like a drug. It gives me a purpose and the knowledge to know that I’m healing people through comedy,” Brand added.

Like all career paths, steps have to be made in order to get to one’s best level. Brand says that one of the biggest lessons he’s learned in comedy is that it is a business first and foremost. While comedic talent does matter, Brand doubled down in saying that one can only control what factors are in front of them in comedy. That life lesson Brand learned early on can be easily applied to almost any industry.

That ethos of “its all business” certainly applied to Brand’s time on the hit comedy show, Wild ‘n Out.

“I appeared on eight seasons of Wild ‘N Out and I really enjoyed my time. I had fun. But you have to understand, like anything else, it’s business and you can only do what you’re able to do on that platform when you’re on it,” Brand explains of his time on the show.

“Some people think that we’re all friends but sometimes, egos came into play and arguments but at the end of the day, it’s just business.”

Comedy means the world to Brand but there’s another job he’s taken on that takes precedence over all.

“I have a lot of things coming up, just finished shooting my first movie and a commercial for Target. But I just recently became a father and that’s the biggest blessing and proudest moment of my life so far,” Brand shared.

“I’m doing the Real Talk Comedy Tour and I’ve got a lot of good things going on. I was even called back for Season 20 of Wild ‘N Out. I’m just taking everything God puts in front of me. I never thought I’d be here this far so everything else is just a bonus and a blessing.”

At the close of our conversation, Brand reiterated the importance of attending an HBCU and how enriching an experience it is.

“I stand on this. Every Black person, if they can, should attend an HBCU because that’s the only place where you will be truly celebrated. You’ll be surrounded by culture, love and support…some people attend HBCUs and find their family,” Brand said.

“Some of us come from broken homes so the HBCU campus is where we can find the true meaning of family. And I would pick A&T above all because I can honestly say going to that school saved my life along with others I know.”

“You may meet the person you marry, you might meet your bridesmaids and groomsmen there. It’s an indescribable thing. It’s all Black joy,” Brand passionately concluded.

Keep up with all things Darren “Big Baby” Brand at darrenbrand_ on Instagram.