By Semira Robinson
After a very eventful Yardfest on Friday afternoon, the early birds (and Bison) on campus were treated to a very special surprise at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12. At 6:24 a.m. an official email notification was sent out by HU Communications and by 6:30 a.m. the sound of Kanye West’s choir rang beautifully from Warder Street by the reservoir to HU Hospital, serving as an alarm for anyone still asleep.
As we watched the sun rise, the service began promptly on time with the choir singing gospel song, “He Is Wonderful.” Some other familiar songs on the exclusive set list included a new rendition of West’s own songs and sampled tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Nothing Too Hard For God,” “Fade,” “Never Would Have Made It”and “Jesus Walks.” Several unidentified songs we performed as well, potentially from West’s rumored new album, “Jesus Is King.”
Recording artist and songwriter, Antony Williams led the choir and majority of the service. West and Williams have collaborated for years, as since Antony co-wrote two songs from “The College Dropout.”
Sunday Service at Howard University was at the crossroads of the black church and black university. The production brought out people from different settings for different reasons all to partake in the same thing.
“I grew up Christian but started to stray from organized religion as I got older and Kanye had me back at my first church service in probably over a year. There’s one side [of Christianity] that sees how it’s been used as a means for oppression and reject it, and another that sees how it’s been gravitated to as a means for organizing and sustaining hope through oppression and embrace it,” said junior Isaac Welch. “Personally, at this stage in life I’ve found myself more so in the first group. I think Kanye, just by virtue of being Kanye, brought a lot of people from that camp to his Sunday Service, and despite some of his lunacies and rambling, we got to experience something really soulful and really human in gathering at sunrise to sing and dance in a circle together.”
The Lord’s Prayer initiated the testimonials and sermon which ultimately became a very controversial and thought provoking moment. Many got to see a more open and vulnerable side of West as he explained how he grew closer to his faith again. After his mother, Donda West, passed he became lost and had issues with expressing himself accurately. Once he became committed to going to church every Sunday, after four months, he took the next step to become a devoted follower of Christianity. The ultimate message from his testimony is to “show people how to, love to give, and to pray.”
However, the highlighted, “Do I look cancelled to you?” remark sparked an ongoing debate in regards to Kanye’s support of Trump.
“Even though it broke my heart to see Kanye go on public platforms and support Trump several times, I still find room to forgive him. Everyone deserves a second chance. I think a lot of people were so appalled by the things Kanye said and did because of how outspoken he used to be about issues facing the black community. His creativity and influence is undeniable and I think that’s worth redeeming. Any time you see a Black person pushing anti-black stuff you know there’s self hate involved. Love is the only way to heal that. For this next era I just hope Kanye finds himself again,” said Welch.
Many alumni, students and faculty members were displeased and even offended to find out of West’s presence on campus.
“Yes, the choir sounded great but… Kanye, really? Honestly, I think this is just another means for Howard to acquire more money– for who or what? Who knows. They clearly don’t care that the man is publicly supporting someone who literally pushed for the defunding of HBCUs,” said junior Alyssa McKenzie.
Sophomore, Imani Lynch was quite conflicted about one of her favorite musicians appearance on campus.
“I’m torn. It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, no doubt. I went for the music, that’s what woke me up, I didn’t even realize it was Kanye until I got on the Yard. The choir gave me goosebumps the whole time and I really enjoyed the sermon. I’ve tried to separate the artist from their music but in this case it’s harder when that artist is wearing a MAGA hat right in front of you,” said Lynch. I’m glad he knew better than to wear it at my HBCU, but I still understand and agree with the backlash the university is getting; they should’ve known better than to have an event like this not only during Homecoming, but it’s election season as well. Indirectly disrespectful to students and alumni. I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of Kanye or Howard right now, but I can’t lie and say Sunday Service didn’t move me.”
Additionally the testimonials, highlighted the lives of two men were ex-felons who have been recently released from prison and are now making better lives for themselves.
Special guests spotted on campus Saturday morning included Kim Kardashian West, their children North and Saint West, Terrence J, Pusha T and Goldlink.
West’s upcoming film, which shares the same name of the album, “Jesus Is King,” was screened at George Washington University on the same day at 2 p.m. It will be available to stream on Oct. 25.