By Taj Alston, Contributing Reporter
Yardfest is a staple homecoming event that draws people from everywhere in the world to Howard University’s campus. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Howard community could not be out on the yard this year, so the university attempted to bring the festivities to their homes with a Virtual Yardfest.
For some, The Yardfest: Virtual Edition felt like a conference call rather than a concert. This is usually a time that alumni and students look forward to celebrating and making memories. It is an event that brings alumni together to catch up on their former classmates’ successes and endeavors since graduating from Howard.
“That’s that one weekend, where if I have to be ‘Mr. Corporate Man’ 360 days out of the year, those five days of homecoming, I’m gonna be around family and I’m gonna be able to be myself,” said Charlie Lewis, president of Howard University Alumni Association.
The Howard University website described Yardfest as “a cherished tradition. Yardfest will continue to reinvigorate Homecoming with virtual performances, featuring a diverse range of top-tier artists and entertainers who reflect the Howard diaspora.”
With all of the efforts made to keep tradition alive, The Hilltop reached out to students to reflect on their virtual Yardfest experience.
“Honestly, I feel like it was a waste of time, money and energy,” Natalie Johnson, a junior public relations major, said. “A lot of students were hopeful for at least a little bit of homecoming culture, and the way they advertised it made it seem like it would be some big thing.”
In previous years, Yardfest has brought new and old generations of Howard together with food vendors and performances by icons like Drake and Jay Z.
“I guess I missed the actual important feeling of Yardfest,” explained Jaylen Carr, a junior audio production major. “Every year, the whole campus is buzzing. All of the DMV and even people from all over the country come out to see it, and that atmosphere is a big part of what makes Yardfest a big draw.”
This year, it just felt like it was being forced,” Carr said. “Heck, I forgot it was happening and only jumped in for a few seconds towards the end. That should show how different it felt.”
Every year the community gets excited, anticipating performances and being surprised with the lineup the day of the concert. This year, instead of having a live performance, the Virtual Yardfest included pre-recorded performances by artists 6lack and DSVN.
“I thought it was kind of weird, because they were just videos from YouTube,” Kristin Chance, a freshman criminology major, said.
While students were grateful for the effort, many felt disconnected from this year’s performances.
“We didn’t even need to have a lot of big-named artists on that live, just some good music, maybe if there was a way to be interactive, but definitely not just sitting here and listening to them speak at me like I’m in a lecture,” Johnson said.
Olivia Toussaint, a freshman computer science major, explained: “I feel like it just showed that there wasn’t enough effort to make Yardfest personal to Howard. Using that YouTube video just makes it seem like it was generalized and had no effort to make this year’s fun and good.”
For many first-year and transfer students, this was their first Howard homecoming experience. Given current circumstances, the event was different from what Yardfest really feels like, and many of them recognized the difference.
“I didn’t really enjoy it,” Chance said. “It didn’t feel like a real homecoming. I’ve never been to a Howard homecoming, but I was expecting more than what we got. I feel like I definitely missed out on a real freshman-year homecoming experience.”
Donell Rankins Jr., a sophomore strategic communication major, said he was happy that the university didn’t cancel homecoming entirely.
“While I was glad they had it virtually, I wish the performances were better and not taken from YouTube,” Rankins said. “As a transfer, I was really looking forward to finally being at Mecca and going to my first homecoming.”
The Yardfest: Virtual Edition, focused on Homecoming 100, a campaign to help raise funds to award 100 scholarships to deserving HU scholars next semester, with a discussion between President Wayne A.I. Frederick and actor Omari Hardwick, who co-hosted with his niece, broadcast journalism major Ravyn Hardwick.
“When Howard Homecoming takes place, the entire city experiences an economic boon from the increase in flights, hotel stays, dining and more. However, if those dollars are invested into the University itself, particularly during this pandemic, we’ll be able to assist students who need a hand making ends meet,” Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations David P. Bennett said in a university press release. “We are grateful to each of our donors who have decided to reinvest their travel dollars into our scholars who are pushing through this challenging time to stay on course for graduation. Each donation has a significant impact in making that dream a reality.”
The virtual event also included an entrepreneurship panel featuring DJ Envy from “The Breakfast Club” and a “Bison Tank” student pitch competition.
“I thought the Q&A was good and needed,” Rankins said. “I felt it was a chance to re-center us and remind us why we came to Howard in the first place to leave our mark on the world and the black community, like Omari [Hardwick]. And the entrepreneurship panel solidified that point.”
This year’s homecoming theme was “Advocacy.”
“Advocacy appropriately captures the energy of this moment in our society and the need to use this time wisely to continue to move Howard Forward, ensuring that this great university will continue producing the scholars and leaders that our society desperately needs,” said President Frederick in a university press release.
Programming throughout the week included a three-day HU Ideas Symposium, tribute to alumnus Chadwick Boseman, call to chapel and day of service. Many were looking forward to having Saturday night to interact virtually with each other. For some, “Yardfest” was not true to the legacy the word holds.
“The content was great,” Lewis said. “I wish they would have brought more alumni involvement and really brought the yard to us in a virtual setting with more footage of families and friends being on the yard.”
“I wanted more of a concert, like Yardfest is, and less conversation,” Lewis added. “People go to homecoming for Howard camaraderie, parties and to let loose after you’ve been working all year long.”