By Raaziq Brown, Contributing Reporter (@RaaziqMasud)
As a legacy student of Howard University, I began my tenure at the Mecca in 2014 with grand expectations for Homecoming. Throughout the entirety of my youth, my mother, who graduated from Howard in 1991, boasted about the superiority of Howard’s Homecoming in comparison to all schools–HBCU’s and PWI’s alike. The excitement that I had for my first Homecoming was similar to how I felt about traveling abroad for the first time: I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that it would be fun.
My expectations for my first Homecoming were heightened even more once I came to campus and was immediately apprised by upperclassmen of Howard’s epic 2012 Homecoming. With a star-studded Yardfest line-up featuring Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Big Sean, Meek Mill, T.I. and a surprise appearance by Drake, I was sold. Homecoming sounded like a festival on the same level as Coachella or Made in America, and I wanted in.
October rolled around and my excitement for Homecoming plateaued after news spread that Yardfest for 2014’s Homecoming would not feature any live performers for the first time in years due to the riot that was caused by Drake’s surprise performance two years prior. This news left me questioning the validity and future of Howard Homecoming and was the cause of backlash from students and alumni ultimately initiating an early separation between what was ‘Old Howard’ and what is ‘New Howard’? A year later, this disunion was reaffirmed with Homecoming not reaching its potential because of poor weather and Yardfest’s lack of live performances for the second year in a row. I, along with many of my peers and classmates, lost faith in Howard’s Homecoming. The following year, in 2016, our hope was restored when the Yardfest stage was graced by artists Faith Evans, Common, Fabolous and, the much anticipated, Lil Uzi Vert. Yardfest was making its way back, and Homecoming was experiencing a revival that many felt was necessary.
Although my personal Homecoming experiences have varied, the feeling that I felt being in the midst of Homecoming activities remained constant throughout all three Homecomings that I have attended. Howard Homecoming left me with an indescribable, exclusive essence that can only be understood if it is experienced. This essence is a unifying factor of Homecoming and serves as the means of connection between all attendees. Being a student and claiming Howard Homecoming as your own makes the experience all the more special. This particular occurrence is linked to a unique, intrinsic connection to Howard as an institution that will temporarily cause you to repress your thoughts on the Howard runaround, forget about the hold on your account barring you from registering for classes and ignore the midterm that you have on the same day as Yardfest. Homecoming instills, in us all, a sense of school pride that would fool an outsider into believing that Howard is perfect.
While the live performances of Yardfest are a valued addition to the entire Homecoming week, it is not, at all, what makes or breaks the Homecoming experience. To the annual visitor who is not a Bison, Homecoming is an experience that gives the attendee a taste of Howard in all social aspects. From the pink and green bomber jackets and fervently stomping gold boots to the impeccably beat faces and recently purchased outfits, a non-Howard attendee of Homecoming could confuse Howard with a superficial realm of Blackness where everything is shiny and everyone looks their best. This intrigue is what brings thousands of people to campus every year and will continue to do so.
For active students at Howard, Homecoming is similar to Thanksgiving festivities being held at home every year. Students get to experience family members, old, new and reappearing, enjoying the halcyon that is Homecoming Week. For alumni, on the other hand, Homecoming is truly about coming home. Graduated Bison enter their old home with new accomplishments to boast about, children to flaunt and memories to resurface. The alumni presence on campus during Homecoming captures the essence of the last stanza of University’s alma mater, “When from thee we’ve gone away/ May we strive for thee each day/As we sail life’s rugged sea// O Howard, we’ll sing of thee” in a propitious way. Homecoming serves as a reminder to alumni of, both, the time that they spent at Howard and the impact that Howard has had on their life. This influence can be seen in the laughter and joy of the visitors during Homecoming, and even more in the personal success and trajectory of the alum. The dyadic nature of Homecoming from the perspectives of the student and the alum, come together in order to create a sense of unity that can only be felt during the week of Homecoming.
All things considered, regardless of the lack of information that we have on who the guests and performers attending Homecoming are, it is important that embrace and remember what Homecoming actually is. Howard Homecoming is a time for all–student, alumni, and visitors–to appreciate and enjoy Howard as, not only an academic institution, but also as a salient force and influence in the Black experience and culture. Howard’s Homecoming is far from a monolithic experience and one’s enjoyment of the week’s festivities predominantly relies on what the individual makes of it. Celebrity guests and performers, or a lack thereof, are no excuse to not enjoy the experience of Howard Homecoming. Homecoming week is an undeniably special time of the year every year. As students, our time on campus is limited, so it is only appropriate for us to take advantage of and enjoy every moment of Homecoming while we can. Enjoy yourself!