La-Donia Alford-Jefferies, 31, Aggie born and bred
The feeling that you know everyone around you, even the strangers. The feeling of home.
This Greensboro native turned her nostalgia for N.C. A&T homecoming into a children’s book, titled Homecoming, celebrating everything that this special tradition holds for historically black colleges and universities.
La-Donia’s mother was a professor with NC A&T School of Business and Winston Salem State University for almost 40 years and her father was an alum with lifetime football season tickets. La-Donia attended A&T’s Child Development Laboratory, a preschool. That’s when she rode her first homecoming parade float, as a toddler.
“I still have memories of getting up early and going to the parades,” La-Donia says. “I felt like the other queens who were on the float. We were just waving. It was nice to be a part of. I loved it. Still do.”
She graduated from Grimsley High School, and then went to NC A&T to study animal science. She was active in the NAACP and AKA Sorority. She was Miss 1908 – an AKA honor – and again she was riding in the homecoming parade.
“It felt surreal to see my parents in the crowd and I’m waving at them. It was like, how did this happen?” she says. “It was definitely like life has come full circle.”
She went to Georgia for Fort Valley State University graduate school. She dreamt of working for the USDA. Instead, she found herself seizing a moment to work for Barak Obama’s presidential campaign.
“In that moment, I felt like politics needed me,” she says. “When can you do that, except in your 20s?”
She returned to Greensboro to be a field organizer for voting precincts around A&T and Bennett College. That job turned into an unexpected career in Virginia state politics and later a relocation to Ohio. She got married and had her first daughter, and found herself missing home. She’d drive eight hours back to Greensboro just for homecoming.
“When my daughter was born, I wished there was some kind of book about A&T or HBCU culture that I could just read to her. I was homesick,” she said. “I wanted to have that for her, but in a language she could understand.”
Today La-Donia’s back in Greensboro, teaching science at High Point Central and serving as an adjunct professor at A&T. Her kids are getting to experience homecoming for themselves, but she never gave up on that idea of a children’s book about homecoming.
“I remember having a dream about it. I woke up the next morning and I wrote it out,” La-Donia says.
She found illustrator J’Aaron Merchant on Instagram. La-Donia picked her because she felt she could capture nostalgia. And “Homecoming” was born. It is a story of a group of siblings on their first trip to homecoming.
It’s a story of family, culture, and university life.
“I wanted there to be a story that captured my experience,” La-Donia says.
“It kind of confirmed the need for this. Beyond just my children, other children in other families needed the book to have those conversations about college,” she says.