Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year. The thought of cool weather, leaves changing color and the return of football make me smile even as I sweat through sweltering southern summers. Autumn also has a special place in my heart because it’s “Homecoming Season.”
This October I returned to Winston-Salem State University to celebrate the unversity’s homecoming. After missing the previous one I had been looking forward to heading participating in the festivities in and around my alma mater. All week I contemplated what I would wear, how I would cut my hair, and how rusty my dancing skills might be. I even told my coworker I had to get to work on making sure I had my “urban walk” on for the weekend.
My coworker, a Sister who went to a predominately White institution, didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Especially after I continued to talk about my experience in the days following my return to work.
“I think homecoming means something different for you than it does for me,” she told me one day.
At first I just kind of laughed her assessment off. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize she was right.
I believe homecoming and the events that surround it have a unique meaning behind it for alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Anyone who has ever attended an HBCU will tell you, it’s an experience like none other. Coming from a small, rural town, my educational experience prior to arriving at WSSU was about as far as you could get from an HBCU. Only 10 of the 122 graduates in my high school senior class were African-American. In more than a few honors classes, I was the only Black face. I learned a lot and had some good experiences, but there was also that feeling of isolation and exclusion.
I also didn’t have much exposure to Black folks in authority in the educational system. Other than a middle school principal, I never had any African-American administrators involved in my education. So to me, coming to a place where Black folks not only everywhere, but were also taking a leading role was a tremendously empowering experience.
When you’re around it every day, you start to take that experience for granted. Three and a half years after graduating, I now realize how special of a time that was in my life. Working in the corporate world has been in someways a return to my high school days. African-Americans are few and far between, and the numbers in management are even more miniscule.
For HBCU grads, homecoming is more than just a chance to come back to the yard and reminisce. It is a chance not only to reconnect with friends, but to be renewed by the shared experiences between you and them. It is a time to be re-energized and know that you are not the only one breaking barriers and overcoming obstacles.
When the subject of homecoming comes up, I can see why those outside of the HBCU community may be confused or even turned off. They probably see a bunch of us spending wads of money to travel to party and watch one mediocre football team beat up on another and wonder what the fuss is about.
Instead of being a disconnect, I think this provides and opportunity for HBCU alumni. Instead of just talking up our alma maters as we prepare to party, we need to praise them all year round. If we share our experiences with the world at large, they will start to see us in a different light.
Attending an HBCU empowered me by revealing that I could be exceptional without being unusual. Most people who attended one will tell you the same. There is a purpose behind the partying, even if many of us do not realize it. Lets continue to celebrate our HBCUs year-round and help our institutions reach their endless potential.
Photo Credit: Winston-Salem State University