A Dream Deferred | HBCU Conference 2024

Real Talk: Illuminating the Path for Black Students

As Dr. Autumn Caviness stands at the podium at the 2024 A Dream Deferred™ conference, the words “We empower all students to take the right first step” are projected behind her.

It’s a full house. Nearly every seat is occupied by an attendee curious to know more about Real Talk, a College Board initiative that connects Black students and families with college and career resources.

Caviness, the director and on-camera host of Real Talk, leads a panel discussion with Sandra Williams-Hamp, executive director of outreach and educational partnerships at the University of California System, and Joseph Montgomery, associate vice provost for enrollment management at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Autumn Caviness hosting Real Talk at A Dream Deferred

But what is Real Talk exactly?

Simply put, Real Talk is a virtual event series where high school students, parents, and caring adults can join live conversations with college recruiters, career and industry experts, and even current college students who can provide insight and perspective—and all of its topics are tailored to help Black students own their future.

Most importantly, it’s a space that makes college and career planning accessible and relevant to Black students. During the session, Caviness plays a video clip of Real Talk highlights. What we see are Black-led discussions, relatable faces, and real advice.

"Real Talk helps to demystify higher education,” explains Williams-Hamp. She goes on to say that not only can students and families understand how to thrive and be successful, but they’re able to have intentional conversations in a safe space. “This is helping to close gaps to college,” she mentions.

And because Real Talk provides content for parents and caring adults, Montgomery states, “[College] needs to be a whole family conversation. … This is a family decision, not just a singular decision. Family support is so important to get kids not just to school, but through school.”

When it comes to career planning, Williams-Hamp advises students to be a “master of critical thinking and analysis. No matter what job you’re in, if you’re an effective writer, you will thrive.” Caviness reminds the audience that Real Talk is part of the BigFuture® platform, which provides not only college planning resources but also career resources, such as the Career Quiz.

Regarding paying for college, Montgomery notes, “The key to paying for college is long-range thinking.” Williams-Hamp expands on this, “Paying for college needs to be a discussion that families are having sooner rather than later.”

Montgomery adds, “BigFuture is free. Some families can’t afford to pay for a college counselor. This tool helps students find a lot of schools. Then they can narrow down to the set of schools that are right fit for them.”

On the Real Talk site, we can browse relevant topics like Black on Campus, Sip and See the Real Tea on HBCUs, and Career Tips from Black Professionals. As Williams-Hamp puts it, “The power of Real Talk is that young people can focus on their pursuits.”