Andrew Rivers has been waiting patiently for about 10 months now. Howard’s Director of Protocol and Events submitted a 27-page proposal to D.C., outlining his vision for this year’s Homecoming.
The proposal contained maps and descriptions of each event, including event names, dates, estimated number of attendees and other specifics.
In a meeting with city representatives, “They’re drilling me through my proposal,” Rivers said. “It’s not a meeting where you can predict what they’re going to ask you. You just need to be prepared.”
Now that homecoming season is here, students, faculty, staff and alumni anticipate experiencing what Rivers and his team have prepared. He shared details of how this year’s Homecoming celebration will be different from last year’s and also revealed the homecoming theme.
Although homecoming is a joint preparation effort between Rivers and his office, administrators, event organizers and student leaders, Rivers credits a select group of students for coming up with this year’s theme: Revival.
He and his office worked with HUSA President Nia Naylor “To challenge her to work with her peers to bring back three options for a theme,” Rivers said, which was narrowed down to one.
Naylor explained the reasoning behind the selection of “Revival” in a written statement to Rivers. “The theme is meant to bring Howard back to life, highlighting our new president, the new leadership, and the various changes we have made on campus throughout the Howard Forward Plan, ” she said.
Naylor also said, “One thing I didn’t want to do is the same old nostalgia. I feel like that’s been done almost every year, just in a different way in regards to homecoming.” Though Revival is a different approach, she explained it still maintains “the same love and admiration for Howard, but in a different way.”
In addition to selecting the theme, student groups like HUSA, 1867 and UGSA were tasked with spearheading preparations for the step show and fashion show and recommending artists for Yardfest performers. “So when we do Homecoming, by having it student-led, these students are gaining experience that corporations are looking for,” Rivers said.
Rivers mentioned that this year, planning efforts adhered to a “memorandum of understanding,” which was an agreement that ensured student involvement. While student leadership has historically been a characteristic of homecoming, “This time we felt it was important to put in writing,” he said.
Naylor also discussed the dynamic between student leaders and administration when preparing for this year’s homecoming planning process. She said, “Another thing I want people to see is like what collaboration can do and what truly happens when administrators really listen to students and when they truly utilize students.
The Hilltop reached out to members of 1867 for comment, one of which responded that since the organization is not an independent entity, it is not able to participate in an interview about homecoming preparations.
Also new for this year’s homecoming, Rivers said, is that WHUT-TV and WHUR-FM, Howard’s television and radio station, respectively, will host what they’re calling a “Fam-Fest” in the valley dedicated to children attending.
“It’s for the parents who are bringing their younger kids, for them to come down to the lower valley and be involved in their own little festival,” Rivers said. “There will be bouncy castles, face painting, coloring activities, music and other features. It’s almost like their little Yardfest.”
Another change attendees should be mindful of is that the football game will start an hour earlier than last year, now at noon, Rivers said.
The turnout for this year is expected to be quite large, Rivers explains. An estimated 8,000 people have attended Yardfest in the past, while 9,000 have attended the football game. In total, around 30,000 people have been in the vicinity of campus at a given time during homecoming.
Amirah Hill, a freshman chemical engineering major from Frederick, Maryland, is excited to celebrate her first homecoming as a student on campus. Although she has attended Howard’s Homecoming in the past, Hill said that the experience will be even more special now that she is a member of the community.
“Since this is my first homecoming as a student, I am looking forward to seeing all of the Bison pride from current students and alums, and the overall atmosphere of Yardfest,” Hill said.
Rivers, who works in development and alumni relations, described the importance of homecoming as a community event. The event is for “the entire university community,” including alumni, students and the local D.C. community.
“Our tentacles extend out into our community as well,” Rivers said. “So when we think about our homecoming, it’s not just to engage internally, but also offer external opportunities for people to join in from that standpoint.”
One of the most important roles given to students revolves around the decision of which artists to hire to perform. This year, a pool of students came up with 21 artists to be considered. The biggest difficulty with hiring talent though, involves the entertainment budget that Rivers’ office can use.
This year the budget is $150,000, which Rivers admitted, “is very small.” He noted that access to external funding has supported securing a strong lineup of artists each year.
Corporate sponsors help to pay for performers without affecting the set entertainment budget, and at the time of the interview, three artists will perform who are completely sponsored by external organizations, Rivers said.
Rivers and Naylor shared that contractual agreements with artists stipulate that they can only be announced as performers no more than 24 hours in advance of their performance for security purposes, among other reasons.
Homecoming, unlike Springfest, is funded directly by the Development and Alumni Relations budget instead of student fees. Since the events aren’t exclusive to students and there is an emphasis on alumni, his office has shifted away from using student activity fees to fund homecoming.
Yardfests in years past have featured some of today’s biggest names in music, including Drake in 2010.
Dominiq Dudley, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2016, reflected on her homecoming experience as a student and alumna. “My freshman year, I was fortunate to have Drake as headliner,” she said.
Yardfest is one of Dudley’s favorite homecoming traditions. “It’s a lot of anticipation about who is going to perform,” she said. Dudley also talked excitedly about the pregame tailgate, “Tailgate is the event you get to see everybody.”
“Homecoming, to me, is nostalgia,” she continued. “It’s an opportunity to reminisce, but also celebrate the present moment.”
This sentiment was shared by Rivers as he touched on the importance of keeping homecoming traditions consistent throughout the years. “When alumni come back, we try to keep that nostalgia,” Rivers said. Along with the creative side of planning, Rivers and his fellow organizers also have to coordinate more technical aspects of homecoming, like safety.
Following the mass shooting on Morgan State University’s campus on Oct. 3 and Bowie State University’s campus four days later, Rivers noted the importance of ensuring safety during Howard’s homecoming week. He said that his team is “making sure security measures are in place and heightened.” This includes working with the Metropolitan Police Department and Homeland Security.
Kayden Edwards, a sophomore international business major from Columbus, Ohio, discussed her first Howard Homecoming last year and the importance of safety. Edwards advises students, especially freshmen to practice measures of maintaining safety throughout the entire week, like sharing locations.
“Always travel in a group and always look out for one another,” Edwards said. “At the end of the day, you never want to have a homecoming where it’s unsafe, or people are being unsafe.”
Rivers said that all of the preparations that go into the event are to make sure everyone has a great, safe time. For Friday and Saturday specifically, though, the focus is on the students and their celebrations.
“Where do you go in the United States, where you can probably get three to four A-list artists and [an open-air] concert free? Nowhere,” Rivers said. “So when we focus on Saturday, we’re actually focusing on the students. We’re doing everything we can to make sure the students have a wonderful party on the Yard.”
Copy edited by Diamond Hamm