For Cynetra McMillian it was like being in Wakanda.
For Joriee Dorman, it was the experience of meeting her mother’s Delta Sigma Theta sorority line sisters.
For Tiffany Townsend, it was when the Bad Boy Records tour came to campus, including Diddy and the Notorious B.I.G.
These experiences didn’t just happen in a vacuum, they happened while they were undergrads at HBCUs during Homecoming.
Each of them, all staffers at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C., and their colleagues who also went to Black Colleges shared their experiences in a new video from the museum for its new digital platform project Homecoming: A Celebration of HBCUs and Their Legacies.
The project helps readers explore the history of HBCUs, describes the Homecoming experience ranging from the bands, the reunions, the social functions and the names and faces that make up what it’s like to be a part of the whole celebration. In the video, entitled Back to the Yard: Celebrating The HBCU Experience, the staffers get to reminisce on the impression being in the Homecoming atmosphere made on them.
“Freshman year’s homecoming for me was a homecoming for me like no other,” said McMillan, who attended Clark Atlanta University and is now the senior public affairs advisor for the NMAAHC.. “Fresh out of D.C., from underneath my grandmother’s watchful eye, the array of Black men and women and the culture and the celebration. It was really like Wakanda.”
At Bowie State University’s 2017 Homecoming, Dormand, an NMAAHC visitor service assistant, remembers meeting her mom’s entire Delta line – meaning the women she pledged with. “I grew up hearing about them, encountered some along the way,” she said, “but to actually see them all was really nice and we got to take a picture for her.”
At the height of their fame, Diddy, Big Poppa, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and several other Bad Boy superstars rolled onto Hampton University’s campus in 1995 performing their hits and Townsend, an NMAAHC advancement associate, was there to see it. “That was one of my first real concerts not being with my parents, and it was great,” she said.
Because Black College culture largely revolves around providing experiences unlike those of other schools, memories like these stay with HBCU alums for a lifetime and they are unlike that of other schools.
Several staffers talk not just about their homecoming memories, but also about their favorite HBCU marching bands, and which character from “A Different World” best describes them.
On its HBCU page, the NMAAHC gives a description of the terminology linked to HBCUs, why Homecoming halftime shows are so important, and even goes into the history of the closing chapel services given at the schools as Homecoming celebrations end.
Teddy Reeves, the museum's curator of religion, who attended Hampton’s Homecoming in 2019 spoke of an entire list of what made it special.
“The culture, the environment, the space, the welcoming, the feeling, the hype, the band, the football game, the yard,” he explained. “Everything about it was just phenomenal.”