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Ashley Blaine for DIAGEO

Source: Courtesy of DIAGEO / Courtesy of DIAGEO

Historically Black Colleges and Universities are the breeding ground for Black excellence. Since the first HBCU, Cheyney University’s inception in 1837, these much-needed spaces for us have shaped some of the most innovative individuals that have contributed to today’s culture, education, and tradition. 

One of those individuals is the multi-faceted actress Ashley Blaine Featherson Jenkins. The Dear White People alum is known for doing it for the culture, and that has never been more apparent than with her latest collaboration with DIAGEO and its brands as they lean into their commitment to advancing the Black community. Together with CÎROC, Crown Royal, Tequila Don Julio, and Tanqueray, in partnership with HBCU Buzz, they have pledged $10 million to create permanent endowments at 25 HBCUs across the country with Society 2030.

Ashley Blaine says, “Whenever I have an opportunity to return home to Howard University, a place that holds so many fond memories and helped me grow into who I am today, it leads me to reflect on how important HBCUs are to our communities. Together with DIAGEO and its brands, I’m proud to pay it forward and support my alma mater as we uplift the next generation of changemakers.” 

We had the chance to sit down with Ashley Blaine to discuss the importance of HBCUs, why homecoming is a cultural staple, and what’s next for her.

HelloBeautiful: What was the most memorable part of attending an HBCU?

Ashley Blaine: The most memorable part of attending an HBCU, mine specifically Howard University, is having the unique experience of being around a plethora of people who look like you and are excellent. There’s just something really empowering about being around Black excellence all day, every day. And I think, in a lot of ways, it empowers you as a person. It gives you a special type of pride in your people. From the moment I got to Howard, my freshman year, I just became a better woman each day that I set foot on the yard. And even now, still going back for homecoming, I feel better for it. So it’s just something so beautiful about being around a whole bunch of amazing Black people who look like you and are excellent.

HelloBeautiful: I love that so much. I went to a PWI, so I’ve always been jealous of folks that went to HBCUs. What is the lasting effect of going to an HBCU? What follows you after you graduate?

Ashley Blaine: The community. The way that attendees and graduates stay connected is very unique. It’s because of the way we were founded. HBCUs were founded because Black folks wanted to be educated but wanted to be educated with their community because white people weren’t letting us be a part of theirs. So we had to do our own thing. I just feel really grateful that that’s lasted. Howard, for example, was founded in 1867, off the strength of community. And even now, in 2022, the community feeling is just as strong, if not even stronger. What follows you is that wherever you go, you know that there is going to be somebody that’s gonna be like, “You went to Howard?” or “You went to an HBCU? Girl, okay, I got you.” Someone’s gonna have your back off the strength of this amazing experience that we all share. That’s quite unique.

HelloBeautiful: Absolutely. And I saw it a lot this weekend with Howard and Hampton’s homecomings. If you could explain HBCU culture in three words, what would they be and why?

Ashley Blaine: HBCU culture in three words? I would say beautiful, and I’m gonna use the word empowering again. It’s empowering. There’s no way to be in the midst and not feel empowered. Lastly, It’s fun. It just is so much fun.

HelloBeautiful: We kind of talked about it being homecoming season. What are your homecoming beauty and fashion must haves?

Ashley Blaine: Here’s the thing. At Howard, we’re known as a fashion school, so you know we’re gonna give the looks — L E W K S. The must-haves are . . . everything, you know what I mean? There’s nothing that’s not a must-have. It’s not like you can skip this, or you don’t have to have that. Nope. Hair done, nails done, makeup done. You did a few workouts before going, or you went to the dermatologist. You got your fits together, and you got new shoes. It’s everything. If I had to pinpoint something, I would say that you’re supposed to come back with prideful energy or bossy energy of like, “Yeah, this is my school. I’m coming home.” You know? My husband attended a PWI, and I think that’s the difference. He doesn’t necessarily feel like whenever he’s going back to his school that it’s going home. But I always feel like it’s going home, whether it’s homecoming or not. It could be a random Wednesday in January. If I’m stepping foot on campus, I’m at home, and I’m always made to feel that way. 

HelloBeautiful: That’s so good. Can you talk a little bit about your partnership with Diageo and the HBCU Buzz 30 Under 30?

Ashley Blaine for DIAGEO

Source: Courtesy of DIAGEO / Courtesy of DIAGEO

Ashley Blaine: It’s been really exciting to partner with Diageo because so many amazing brands are a part of Diageo, and they came together to honor the next generation of Black leaders. The class of leaders was the HBCU Buzz class of 30 under 30, and we toasted each honoree’s impact and impressive achievements in building a better future during one of my favorite times of the year, which is homecoming. I’m really proud to pay it forward and support my fellow HBCU community as we uplift the next generation of changemakers who are all truly blazing a trail for others in their communities. I’m 34, so it’s really nice to see this group of young Black folks who are just amazing changemakers. They’re 30 under 30, so they’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and just really excited to change the world. It was a really beautiful experience. Diageo is really committed to investing in HBCUs, and I will always be proud of my HBCU and wanna be a part of any way I can support.

HelloBeautiful: What does it mean for you to be a part of this? With you talking about the importance of pride and community, what does it mean for you specifically? Growing up, did you ever think that you would be the person that would be a part of this?

Ashley Blaine: Honestly, I’m honored. It’s an honor. I have always been someone who wanted a lot for myself and out of life. I have always had so many goals and things that I want to achieve in life. Being asked to be a part of this is one of those things that kind of catches you by surprise because, at times, you’re in a season of your life when you feel like you should be doing so much more or representing so much more or whatever it may be. And so to have Diageo and HBCU Buzz think of me as someone that they wanted to be a part of the celebration and to represent my alma mater, which in so many ways shaped who I am today, it was a confirmation of like, “Ashley, you’re doing okay. You’re doing exactly what you set out to do. Keep going.” It was a moment where I was able to say I’m really proud of myself that I’m at a point in my life, in my career, and in my representation of Black folks and Black women, especially where others are seeing me in that same light and want me to represent in a large capacity.

HelloBeautiful: Absolutely. That was so good. That was a word! Speaking of you being all the things because you’re everything, I just wanna say we’re always proud of you. You’re always doing it for the culture, and we’re so grateful for that. What’s next for you? What do you have going on? How do we keep up with Ashley?

Ashley Blaine: Thank you! Oh, my goodness. Okay. So I have my podcast, “Trials to Triumphs,” which is an OWN network podcast. It’s our first original podcast, so I’m really proud of that. We have new episodes that come out each and every Monday, so you can find me talking to your favorite people about their Trials to Triumph’s journey. My podcast is probably one of my biggest and favorite accomplishments of my career, so I’m really proud of that. You are probably gonna catch me on the second season of “Grand Crew.” I’m also going to be on the second season of “Run the World.” With me, you never know. You just never know. I’m always gonna pop up somewhere, but those are the things I can talk about right now. 

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