Stories from the Oaks

“The Best Local HBCU”: Married non-traditional students on why Dillard was an easy choice

Lee and Karen Anderson

The Andersons greeting fellow classmates on the Avenue of the Oaks. Photo: Sabree Hill/Dillard.

Author: Lauren R.D. Fox, Communications Specialist 

Photographer: Sabree Hill, University Photographer

In today’s higher education landscape, non-traditional students are increasingly becoming the new norm on college campuses. However, at Dillard University, non-traditional students have always been a consistent group within the Dillard community and its legacy. Dillard is committed to being a historically Black college that is inclusive in educating African-American students, no matter their age, academic or familial background. An example of this is Karen and Lee Anderson, ages 55 and 56. The married couple enrolled this fall to complete their undergraduate degrees in their home city of New Orleans. To Lee and Karen, earning these degrees would allow them to pour back into their community by opening a therapy practice for those suffering from anger issues, broken homes, or perilous marriages. In this feature, you will learn more about how Karen met Lee, why they chose Dillard, and the importance of education.

A Love Story 

Lee: We met in New Orleans in 1979 when Karen met her first husband, but interestingly enough, we grew up a block apart and didn’t even know each other! When we met, it wasn’t love at first sight;  Karen divorced her first husband after 18 years and later remarried. After six years of marriage, her second husband passed. A year later, she and I got married. At that point, we knew each other for 29 years. Today, we have been married for 12 years; we dated for six weeks before getting married at a drive-through wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Between us, we have three adult children. We enjoy our journey one day at a time because we understand love is a choice, and we choose to love each other at all times. 

How has COVID-19 Impacted Your Life? 

Karen: We’re musicians and owners of Algiers Brass Band, LLC. Our company performs at weddings, corporate events, funerals and other celebrations centered around New Orleans’ second line traditions or jazz funerals. Before COVID-19, we performed nationwide but now perform at nursing homes. Recently we worked on a virtual project that was released in early October. In our personal time, we are members of Black Tide. At Dillard, we are members of the B. K. Clark Psychology Club.


When I perform music, the genre I specialize in is Jazz and Christian Worship; my instrument is my voice. Lee plays his trumpet and usually performs Louis Armstrong covers. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has eliminated our live performance schedule, but we are working on a project to get into senior homes around the country and perhaps even around the world. Lee has helped me in my music career by simply being supportive and allowing me to do what I love to do. At first, he really wasn’t interested in performing, but at some point, I was able to convince him that it would be a great idea, so now he does.

  • Lee's 25th Birthday. Promoted to Drill Sargent.
  • Karen at 15 in New Orleans.
  • Lee at 46 in pilot school.
  • Karen's first album, "Perfect Bliss." Age 38.
  • Lee and Karen's wedding day in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Lee and Karen performing in a New Orleans nursing home in 2018.



Karen: Our degrees from Dillard will be our firsts! I am studying music business with a minor in psychology, and Lee is majoring in psychology. We applied to Dillard because we believe it is the best local private HBCU. Because of that fact, we didn’t apply to any other school in the New Orleans area. It’s fun going to school with my spouse because we help with each other’s weaknesses. It’s also cool for us to be non-traditional students because we are not influenced by peer pressure. We learn a lot from the younger generation, and they learn from us. We make connections with our instructors because we’re closer to their ages or sometimes older than they are. We advise prospective non-traditional students to count the costs, time, and review their current commitments before applying to school. You must also know your “why.” Pick a school that’s right for you and go for it!

What’s Your Why? 

Lee: I have a helicopter pilot’s license and, when I went to flight school, I was the only Black person at the airport. I realized half-way through school that I wasn’t going to school for me. I was going for all the other Black guys coming after me. Generally speaking, there’s not a lot of Black men flying anyway but, I don’t think they are aware of the career opportunities they can have outside of what they see. Many believe that they have nothing to live for. They see opportunities but, they think, “that can’t be me.” 


Karen: I agree with what Lee is saying; young people in the hood aren’t seeing the Drs. Kimbrough or Bullard. You know? [They have not met] people who have worked hard to achieve their success. They see the dealers or women who have five kids with no support. It is only one extreme they are observing. So when they get to the point where they do see successful Black people, they think, “Oh! That must be magic.” Young people have to learn that you have to put your nose to the grindstone as my grandmother used to say. Our “why” is to fix broken families and promote healing within the Black community. We know of people who have spent a lot of money on therapists who aren’t connected to their racial or socio-economic experience. We believe we can fix and fill that void within the therapy market, especially in New Orleans. 


  • Karen and Lee riding on their scooters.
  • Lee and Karen in class.
  • Lee and Karen on Dillard's Avenue of the Oaks.
  • Lee performing with his brass band Algiers Brass Band, LLC.
  • Karen performing at Dillard's 2020 Coronation.
  • Karen leading the Algiers Brass Band, LLC at the 2020 Coronation.

Dillard University’s mission is to produce graduates who excel, become world leaders, are broadly educated, culturally aware, and concerned with improving the human condition. The Dillard curriculum has provided students with expansive knowledge and opportunities such as graduate school pipeline programs and skills for future employment. Dillard has produced alumni who have received full scholarships to law school, careers at ABC Network and Goldman Sachs and a Pulitzer Prize winner. 


Complete your Dillard application today, by clicking this link. We can’t wait to hear from you! 




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