Here’s How HBCU Homecomings Remind Us Of Our Special And Rare Greatness
... when I think of homecoming, I think of a place where HBCU alumni come back to fill their proverbial cups ...
Homecoming: A return home; the return of a group of people usually on a special occasion to a place formerly frequented or regarded as home; especially an annual celebration for alumni at a high school, college or university.
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For those who attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Spelman College and Morehouse College, homecoming is literally the act of returning home to a place that accepted you, nurtured you and informed your identity as a person of color.
Homecoming is comprised of the event, the place and the people who saw you through your late teens and early 20s. It’s where you reunite in a safe and sacred place once a year to catch up with your girlfriends, your brothers, your best friends, your sorority sisters or your frat brothers. Homecoming is where you finally connect with that person (platonically or otherwise) who you may have misjudged years earlier or who you never got the chance to get to know. It’s where you muster up the (liquid) courage to shoot your long overdue shot. It’s where you may make rookie mistakes again and have a little too much to drink, just like in undergrad. But most importantly, it’s home.
It’s where you go to bond with former classmates who are the "onlys" — or one of few in their academic programs or places of work, and represent the race in every class discussion, meeting, decision and interaction. It’s where you go to have fun without having to code switch, cite resume points, talk about work, mention accolades or list the countries you’ve been to in order to fit in. It’s the place where for a few days you’re the privileged one, in the majority, and you don’t have to go out of your way to assert or prove yourself.
It’s where you go to reconnect with that classmate of yours who wasn’t chosen for a finance internship 12 years ago but went on to work for Google, then a start-up that was bought out by Amazon, and, today, is a large-scale tech investor financing and developing other Black startups. It’s where you go to crack jokes with your friend who started off at Morehouse College unable to pay room and board on top of tuition, but went on to become an investment banker and, today, is an agent with the number one talent agency in the country and is committed to giving others the same opportunities.
It’s where you go to have a group hug at your class brunch with the only two other Black women you interned with as sophomores at a top investment bank, who went on to consult for a top consulting firm after graduation. As they went through rounds of interviews as 21-year old students, they told their influential and powerful interviewers (among them partners and senior managers), “We come as a package,” (i.e., you choose both of us or neither one of us). Both were hired full-time and were the only Black women in their training class.
HBCUs like Spelman and Morehouse ingrain such a mentality in their students. You lift as you climb. You are your brother’s and your sister’s keeper. There’s enough room at the table for you all. It starts early when students are assigned their Morehouse brother or Spelman sister at Olive Branch and form a friendship meant to last a lifetime. It starts when Spelmanites are brought into Sister’s Chapel during freshman orientation, made to hold hands and take a good look at the Spelman sister to their right and to their left, and told to make sure those two are still with them in four years at graduation.
As people question the importance and relevance of HBCUs today with the doors of predominantly white institutions (PWIs) wide open, I think of the psychological impact of having someone who looks like me teaching me, or having professors who don’t question my intelligence and aren’t influenced by implicit bias as they grade my papers and evaluate my responses during class discussions. I think of having access to mentors who I can relate to and who’ve been in my shoes, or taking a course that focuses on Black History, Black literature and Black experiences — courses that are, for the first time, culturally relevant and focused on me as the centerpiece, and not an afterthought.
I think of not having to worry about imposter syndrome and wonder if I really belong, because this place, this institution, was created specifically for me with my unique experiences in mind. I think of the HBCU graduates who opened doors to various fields and industries, who led and participated in the Civil Rights Movement and who tore down barriers when most doors, including those to PWIs, were bolted shut. Because of them, today, we not only have a seat at the table, but are creating our own tables so that there is no competition over a seat or two, but enough room for us all. I also think of how much more work has yet to be done despite the progress already made.
When I think of homecoming, I’m reminded of how special and rare it is to be surrounded by a group of peers who’ve beat the odds and aren’t statistics; who continue to challenge preconceived notions of what it means to be Black; and who go into interviews, designed to make them compete with one another, having made a pact with each other. I think of people today who are doctors, dentists, psychologists, pharmacists, engineers, lawyers, judges, legislators, politicians, teachers, professors, writers, economists, political scientists, diplomats, investment bankers, consultants, investors, entrepreneurs, news anchors, producers, publicists, actors, actresses, musicians, screenwriters, filmmakers, sports and entertainment agents, and more.
I think of people who fight invisible battles every day in majority spaces designed to minimize and exclude them, where they’re indirectly told they’re not good enough, where they’re expected to fail, and where they’re subjected to unconscious bias and microaggressions meant to erode their confidence and undo the lessons, messaging and efforts of their HBCUs. I think of people who, despite it all, somehow manage to prevail in their fields and return home once a year to celebrate the victories, both big and small.
So when I think of homecoming, I think of a place where HBCU alumni come back to fill their proverbial cups; to be reminded of what they’re made of and from whence they came; and to be rejuvenated so that they can continue navigating the complex environments of their day-to-day lives. I think of a place where they can finally be their free, unfiltered, unapologetic and best Black selves for a few days without fear of judgment or reproach simply because they’re surrounded by a community of their peers who are genuinely rooting for their success and know that when one of us wins, we all win.
Littane Bien-Aime is an alumna of Spelman College (C’2009).