Watching the orange and green banners wave over the campus of my alma mater with signs that read, “Welcome Rattlers,” I’m reminded why attending an HBCU, specifically Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was by far the best decision I ever made.
One of the most important and celebrated weekends at every historically Black college and university (HBCU) is homecoming. Aside from being a week-long lituation, it’s much more than that. It’s a return home. A spiritual celebration.
Inching down the bumper to bumper traffic awaiting to pull up to the historic campus on the highest of seven hills, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this aspect our Black culture.
In a full circle moment, I’m back home at FAMU and I feel complete. I'm lost in sea of people and everyone is decked out in FAMU merchandise. As I continue to make my way towards my old stomping grounds I hear: “FAM-U. FAM-U. FAM Got Damn U. Aright, Alright, Alright.” A chant recited by present students and alumni of Florida A&M that fully displays our pride, love and admiration for our beloved university.
This time, I’m not returning to FAMU alone. I have three tween girls with me—my 12-year-old niece Zoe and her two friends, Austyn, 11, and Jada, 10—who are excited to experience the school they had heard their parents (and favorite aunt!) rave so much about their entire lives. Hailing from different cities across the country—Austin, TX; Atlanta, GA; Parkland, FL—the girls are ready to explore the Black experience in all its glory and eager to be surrounded by Black excellence in various complexities.
Although it only happens once a year, the deep-rooted connection that’s cultivated during homecoming can last a lifetime. My heart swelled as my niece turned and said to me, “I fit in here. I feel so connected like I belong. This is an amazing experience.” If I ever needed a reminder about my duty as an HBCU alum to educate the next generation about the richness and impact of HBCU, this was it. Mission Accomplished.
The significance of homecoming extends beyond glorfied Instagram images or a performance piece that Taylor Swift jacked from Beyoncé who intentionally used her platform to bring HBCU awareness to the forefront of popular culture. It’s an embodiment, a true reflection of family, celebration of Blackness, and a piece of identity. Most importantly, it’s a generational torch passed down to carry forward a legacy. The experience allows young Black students to thrive, while nurturing their cultural pride.
I often ask myself, how do you ignite this necessary flame in children that makes them excited to be a part of a Black tradition, when any and every institution has become culture vultures profiting off the Black experience with no authenticity? I found my answer when I chaperoned these girls at homecoming: exposure. Before walking on to campus for the Greek step show, Austyn made it known her Rattler pride already ran deep. “I want to attend FAMU because my parents attended. They’re really involved and always go to events to support FAMU. Coming to homecoming and being on campus makes me understand why they love it so much.” As we continued to make our way across campus the excitement intensified. Horns roared, drums blared, and voices echoed from Bragg Memorial Stadium. The best damn band in the land (don’t @ me), the Marching “100” were gearing up for the big gameday.
Months of preparation led to lasting memories for these young queens and a realization that Black girl magic is more than a hashtag. Relishing in the beauty of blackness in various shades, sizes and walks of life, Jada came to a realization that takes some a lifetime to learn. “Black girls are powerful and Black girl magic is being able to be yourself. To be proud of who you are and respectful of the culture,” she smartly stated.
It was an unmatched life-altering experience and a crash course on the history and importance of life at an HBCU for these young ladies. But, most importantly a cultural shift and deeper understanding of how HBCUs have helped shape history. Not solely limited to Black history, but American history.
Had it not been for me bringing them here to see it for themselves, they may have never truly felt this impact. It’s our duty to educate the next generation about all HBCUs have to offer, because if we don’t then we’re letting HBCU culture, our culture, die.
Homecoming is over now, but I think a spark has been lit in these three beautiful brown girls. It's a day that Zoe, Austyn and Jada will never forget and illuminate in their memory as bright as the eternal flame, a symbol at the center of FAMU’s campus that serves as the “fire and spirit that lies within every Rattler.”
For more HBCU happenings watch BET’s “We Own Homecoming” series for Facebook Watch.
(Photo: Courtesy of Dontaira Terrell)