Donald Mason Jr., a principal in the DeKalb County Schools, attended North Carolina Central University -- the same school that his father and all of his uncles attended. "My father encouraged me to always be a lifelong learner and more importantly, to be a scholar," Mason said.
Photo: Photos courtesy Donald Mason
Photo: Photos courtesy Donald Mason

AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week: Local educator followed family to NCCU; found discipline, patience and a wife

AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week is an occasional series that looks at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

I knew from the time that I graduated from College Park’s Lakeshore High School in 1985 that I was going to attend North Carolina Central University.

It had been a Mason family tradition. 

My father, Donald Edward Mason Sr., had attended NCCU.

So did his oldest brother David, his youngest brother Daryl, and his middle brother Douglass. They all graduated from the school surrounded by the sloping hills and the verdant green.

In fact, my uncle Douglass was an English professor at NCCU up until his untimely death in 1997.

The tradition of Masons attending NCCU was ingrained from an early age.

I remember going to Eagle football games with my father in the early 1970s and proudly taking spiral notebooks to elementary school that read “North Carolina Central University.”

But you see all of that was strange because we all grew up in Chapel Hill and everybody from that town bleeds Tar Heel blue, including me. But first and foremost, I bleed Eagle maroon and gray. 

Every Mason, with the exception of my first cousins Dorothy and Danita, attended North Carolina Central University. 

Dorothy went to Elizabeth City State University and Danita attended some school in Greensboro called North Carolina A&T, a mea culpa that is totally unforgivable.

I was shocked to learn of her decision. Anywhere but A&T! Anything but an Aggie!

When I arrived to North Carolina Central, I was an excited freshman who was ready to take on the world. 

I knew that I wanted to major in English and become a famous sports anchor after graduation.

My years at Central were absolutely the best years of my entire life and shaped my foundation that I would need later in life. 

It really prepared me to handle this thing called life. 

Standing in long lines at the beginning of every semester to pay tuition taught me patience, what little that I now possess.

Going to class without my parents’ encouragement and staying up late at night to study for exams taught me fanatical discipline.

Pledging Alpha Phi Alpha taught me that I could face anything the world threw at me and have the strength and tenacity to not only endure it, but to conquer whatever came my way.

At North Carolina Central, I learned that excuses built bridges that led to nowhere.

Every day, while leaving Chidley Hall (the only male dorm on campus), climbing that steep, steep hill that eventually made its way to the Farrison-Newton Communications Building, I had to remind myself that I was indeed going to go somewhere.

I had the opportunity to be under the tutelage of so many great professors, who challenged and nurtured me to stay the course to graduate with my bachelor’s in 1990 and my masters in 1994.

NCCU is also where I met so many friends who continue to have a significant impact on my life.

But most importantly, NCCU is where – in the fall of 1988 -- I found my greatest gift and greatest inspiration -- Teresa Walker.

Yes, she was Miss NCCU in 1989.

And yes, in 1993, I married her.

She has had the most influence on my life and has been my backbone since met.

I knew that I was a lucky man the moment I met her. Smart, level-headed and very driven are just a few words that I can use to describe her.

She instilled so many valuable principles in me, ones that shaped me into who I am today.

I am so thankful that my father and his brothers had such a significant influence on my decision to attend North Carolina Central University

My father passed away recently, and I miss him so much.  He encouraged me to always be a lifelong learner and more importantly, to be a scholar.

I never became a famous sports anchor. My undergraduate shenanigans got in the way of that goal. But that is fine.

I got my doctorate from the University of Alabama and now I am a middle school Principal here in Metro Atlanta.

My experience at North Carolina Central was an invaluable one that I will cherish forever.

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