Other than Halloween, there is only another thing I look forward to in the month of October…Homecoming. I have had the opportunity to work on a number of college campuses and have participated in homecoming festivities from tailgating to sporting events to banquets to parties. At all of these events, I had a great time but none of them compared to the anticipation and experience of my HBCU homecoming. Now it is easy to say to me, of course you think your homecoming is the best but there is something more to that. I have been to many homecomings but the ones that reflect my sensibilities and fill me with a sense of cultural pride are the HBCU Homecomings.
This is not to denigrate the homecomings of PWIs or to throw shade at my brothers and sisters who attended those institutions but rather highlight a part of the American collegiate experience that continues to be alien to most. They are great, fun, and often pretty spectacular–but they’re not an HBCU Homecoming. With that, I present my Top Ten: What Makes the HBCU Homecoming Extra-Special.
One – Reconnection with Friends
This one is pretty universal except that for HBCUs–whose enrollments tend to be small (which means graduating classes are extra small)–create an on-campus experience that is extremely intimate. (It is interesting to note that the HBCU with the largest enrollment numbers is comparable to what is considered a mid-sized PWI.) The Look to the Left, Look to the Right is no joke so returning to campus and seeing the familiar faces of those who made it through is refreshing for the soul…even if you only have enough time to say What’s up? and get a hug.
Two – A Place to Be Yourself
For many of us, we earned our degrees and ended up working in industries and institutions where still in 2019, we may be one of the few, if not the only at our place of work or at our level. The banter around the water cooler, cubicle, or board room tends to focus on mainstream issues, cultural issues tend to be avoided, music in the office tends to be Pop or Easy Listening, and oftentimes your experience and expertise are second-guessed. But when you Roll up on the Yard (a term not normally associated with the PWI Homecoming), you can relax. Your walk, speech, references, jokes, food tastes, choice of music, attire: all of this and more are understood, accepted, and encouraged. You can be your genuine self because you are with family.
Three – A Sense of Ownership
Sad to say, there are still very few institutions in this land that we as a people can lay claim to; our homes, our churches, and our colleges. Again, not an indictment against our brethren and sisteren who attended PWIs and joined groups like the Black Student Union or hung out in the Black Culture Center as a means for support and solidarity because on those campuses it is important and necessary. But returning to our schools, our campuses, our home instills and confirms a sense of pride and self-actualization. From the front gate to the back of the maintenance shop, from the steps of the main administration building to back of the line at the cafeteria, from the classrooms to the athletic fields, to the dorms, to the library (if you went)–the sense is real that, as Mufasa told Simba, all that you see is yours. In fact, even when you visit other HBCUs there is still a sense that you not only belong but it is still yours…in the like it’s your cousin’s house kinda way.
Four – Continue to Build Bonds
Back in school, you had your clique, your crew, posse, frat, with sorors…whatever you called them you hung tight. They were there for you during the good times, bad times, and the don’t bring that up now times. Today as an alum, there are many opportunities to connect with other alums who were behind you, ahead of you, or even in your class that you never really took the time to get to know. Homecoming is the opportunity to expand your circle of fellow alums, not simply for increasing friendships but to make professional connections, get advice, and support.
Five – Witness to Success
Homecoming is the opportunity to see people in a different light. The guy down the hall who always seemed high. The girl in your class who never seemed to get herself together. The frat dude who seemed to only be about steppin’. The girl who only seemed to spend all her time in the library and never went to a party. Here they are now, at homecoming and either by first-hand conversations or word of mouth, you find out people are doing some important and fantastic things. Now they are teachers, entrepreneurs, in the legal field, medicine, careers in the military, show business, or fantastic family men and women. You never would have believed that back in your freshman year as they struggled to carry a food tray and their books but now they have come to embody the dreams of our forefathers.
Six – Pay Tribute to Those Who Have Fallen
The HBCU homecoming is a giant puzzle and as we get older as alumni, pieces of the puzzle are taken away from us. Old roommates, organization members, study buddies, that person who always seems to walk past you every day although you don’t speak, professors, staff; the list goes on and on. If you are out of the loop, not only are you brought up to speed on those who made the transition, it is a moment to say a prayer, hold a thought, or pour one out for that person. The silver lining to this grand puzzle of ours is that with each graduating class, new pieces of alums are added.
Seven – Introspection
It can happen once you find out your homecoming dates. It can happen as you’re driving up to campus. As you enter the gate. Walking past your old dorm or favorite classroom building. As you watch current undergrads cutting up. It is the moment where you stop, quiet yourself, and take inventory of what your campus and the experience meant to you. You think back to who you were when you first arrived, how you handled conflict, the lessons you learned, or how far you’ve come. It’s a moment that only belongs to you. It is a moment between you and your HBCU.
Eight – Celebrate Legacy
This is my daughter, she’s a junior. That’s my son, he’s a freshman. There is a pride that cannot be replicated when as an alum you introduce your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, etc. who are current students to your friends. They are heralded as legacies while your friends tell the stories on you which you tried to keep from them over the years. Embarrassing, yes…but not only is it history…it’s a cultural bond.
Nine – The Support of Black and Small Businesses
You’re not going to find them in the downtown malls. There aren’t many specialty stores left. Online won’t help you last minute. So what do you do when you want unique and reasonably priced school paraphernalia? Homecoming is the place. Vendors from far and wide, small Black business owners, come with the funky-fresh, the one-of-a-kind, the latest HBCU wear: hats, jackets, sweaters, tees, scarves, jewelry…you name it. They want you to try it on. They want you to look fly. Buy three and you might get a break in the price. Take their business card because you can then use them for your family reunion t-shirts.
Ten – Encourage the Next Generation
The HBCU homecoming has intergenerational love. The classes mix and mingle; eat together, sip together, dance together. Young heads and old heads try to prove who had the best campus experience (code for who cut up the best). In between all of that, the older generation takes the time to learn about the youngsters, provide guidance for finishing school and going into the workplace, make introductions and supply contacts. Homecoming is the time for sharing advice, giving direction and providing support. And it goes on and on and on and on…..
There are many more reasons why the HBCU Homecoming is the bomb but I’ll stop here. My homecoming is this weekend and I’m on the move! Let me know what you love about your HBCU Homecoming. Leave comments below.
Guy A. Sims is a PROUD Lincoln University graduate (Class of 1983). He is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation.