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The Hilltop


Letter to the Editor: Howard Will Never Lose its Soul

Howard University Homecoming football game. Photo by Chandler Kinsey.

I am writing in response to a Letter to the Editor advising Howard to “beware of gentrification to the soul of the Mecca.” In his letter, Anthony Williams, a native Washingtonian, complained that the October 2022 Truth and Service Classic football game against Harvard University was ‘soulless’ and suggested that Athletic Director Kery Davis was obsessed with scheduling games against Ivy League schools, in pursuit of ‘status.’ I think Mr. Williams is wrong, and perhaps because he is unaware of Davis’ many accomplishments, he has misunderstood his intentions. 

I, too, am a native Washingtonian and like Mr. Williams – my family is part of the Howard community. I also grew up attending Howard games, homecoming parades, gatherings on the Quad and a wide array of other activities. And, like Mr. Williams, I LOVE Howard, but I also love what Davis is doing at Howard.

For decades, Howard has focused on academics and becoming the Mecca that graduates Black doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, architects and more. For much of that time, Howard was content to let other HBCUs focus on athletics. It was not until Davis arrived at Howard, that the university began to understand it could do both – academics and athletics – just like Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame and other PWI powerhouse schools.  

To prove his point, Davis invited our neighbors – the University of Maryland Terps to play football, and while Howard did not win the game, they made thousands of dollars. In succeeding years, Howard started challenging the Ivies and other powerhouse PWIs in both football and basketball, and Howard’s teams have grown stronger, better and more competitive. Games against teams like Harvard and Notre Dame bring a national television audience, which provides Howard with an incredible platform for showcasing itself and attracting better and more dominant athletes.

While Davis has enlarged Howard’s competition pool, he certainly has not abandoned our HBCU family. Howard still competes successfully in HBCU Classics with Morgan, hosts the battle for the “Real HU” title against Hampton University in D.C. United’s new MetLife Stadium and its football game against Morehouse hosted at the MetLife Stadium in New York. And, don’t forget that Howard’s basketball team played during the NBA’s All Star weekend in 2022 – a first for any collegiate team. 

As a result of these successes, today, Howard realizes that it can be the Mecca, academically, athletically and beyond. By competing against PWIs, it can make a lot of money– money to support all of its athletic programs and money to construct world-class athletic facilities.  

Speaking of its other athletic programs, Davis’ accomplishments are not limited to football and basketball. He negotiated a historic and unique apparel agreement with the Jordan Brand to outfit its athletes in style. Davis bought Division 1 golf back to Howard via a significant donation and partnership with NBA Champion Steph Curry that generated nationwide headlines. Howard’s swim and dive team, the only such team at an HBCU, recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and spotlighted this past week on two TV networks, just won the 2023 Northeast Conference Championship in a dominant fashion.   

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I write to share with Mr. Williams that Howard is not losing its soul. Instead, HU is upping its game and becoming an athletic powerhouse while maintaining its status as the academic Mecca it has always been – and that’s a good thing! 

Finally, even though Howard is seeing increasing numbers of non-Black students and more white residents in its neighborhood, it will never lose its soul because SOUL is who we are and these newcomers are seeking to share that unique HU experience. So, fear not. Howard is in good hands.

Patricia Cornwell Johnson is a retired labor and employment attorney from Washington, D.C.

Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett


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