Wednesday, October 14, 2020

HBCU Students & Alumni Adapt As In-Person Homecoming Celebrations Go Virtual

 Ruth Samuel | October 14, 2020 | Story #7 for MEJO 253

HBCU Students & Alumni Adapt to Virtual Homecoming Celebrations

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- For Historically Black Colleges and Universities, October marks the beginning of homecoming season, but due to COVID-19, students and alumni are now tuning in from their living rooms as schools embark on virtual celebrations. 

“Homecoming is a time for students, staff, alumni, and locals to come together and embody Black excellence, Black pride, and Black unification. Each event that we have just brings something different,” said Sadonna Fleming, a sophomore criminology major at Howard University. 

Known as Google’s most searched homecoming, Howard University’s event attracts over 100,000 people on average annually. Beginning with a day of community service, the celebration lasts from October 10 through 18. Fleming, who serves as the executive vice coordinator of Howard’s Undergraduate Student Assembly, helped plan the event and pick this year’s theme: advocacy.

The 19-year-old said, “It is such a great, powerful theme because of what is going on in our nation right now and how we were founded. What people can expect this year is the symposium ‘From Protest to Policy.’ It’ll be a panel discussion of student members to government, faculty, and celebrities.”

Fleming said that the homecoming planning process, which begins in April, was a waiting game, requiring approval from Mayor Muriel Bowser and navigating university communications. As COVID-19 worsened, Howard and other HBCUs announced cancellations in June and July, later pivoting to virtual celebrations. Hampton University alumna Jasmine Kromah was saddened by the prospect of not returning to her alma mater.

“I feel like I have this chapter of my life that's not officially closed because there wasn’t a graduation,” said 22-year-old Kromah, a class of 2020 graduate. “To not have this celebratory moment at homecoming is just...ugh. Every time I go back [to Hampton], it just feels like I'm back at a family reunion or a family cookout.”

Hampton’s virtual homecoming week will begin on October 19, however, the full list of events has yet to be shared. Kromah played an integral role in homecoming as an undergraduate member of the Terpsichorean Dance Company, the oldest organization on Hampton’s campus founded in 1934.

Kromah said, “I’ve been apart of the showcase reveals, and it’s a way to collaborate with different people on campus. We'll do a big dance performance and reveal who's coming at the very end.”

Last year at Hampton, Charlotte native & rapper DaBaby performed at their homecoming concert. At North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Ari Lennox, 21 Savage, and more took the stage, reaffirming the homecoming’s title “GHOE: Greatest Homecoming On Earth.”

North Carolina A & T’s GHOE 2019 celebration drew in over 70,000 attendees and $40 million in revenue between flights and lodging. Considering it overlaps with Halloween this year, first-year student Torree Theodore was looking forward to partaking in the HBCU homecoming experience.

“Since ninth grade, I knew I had to go to an HBCU," said 18-year-old Theodore, “I was getting excited before, looking up YouTube videos and everything. Growing up, I went to my mom's homecomings a lot, and she went to Benedict College in South Carolina. I was so excited to live on campus and experience all of that.”

While this year promises a virtual concert, meet-and-greets, and more, the in-person GHOE experience includes a parade, a comedy show, football game, and tailgates — all of which require intense planning and spending. Student Government Association President Brenda Caldwell said a lot of elements went into the decision to hold a virtual celebration.

“I sat on the University Reopening Committee, then on the Student Affairs Subcommittee,” said the senior political science major. “Meetings started back in April and we start planning GHOE in March. It was really a matter of logistically speaking could we pull this off, would it be worth it to put all this effort in for it to not happen, and also safety.”

Twenty-one-year-old Caldwell is the youngest in a long family legacy of Aggie Pride; her first homecoming experience at North Carolina A & T was in 1999. Along with Fleming and Kromah, she wants to ensure that future classes like Theodore’s will one day experience what it means to attend an HBCU homecoming: being a part of a family.

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