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‘Howard, Hold On’: Historian Dr. Michael R. Winston reflects on Howard’s legacy at 157th Charter Day Convocation

Dr. Winston encourages students to build upon the work of their predecessors at their institution

Dr. Michael R. Winston, historian and founding director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University giving the convocation address in Cramton Auditorium on Friday, March 1. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

Howard University held the annual Charter Day Convocation on the Friday before spring break, coinciding as part of the inaugural Charter Spirit Week. Orated by alumnus Dr. Michael R. Winston, alumni, students, and faculty gathered in Cramton Auditorium to listen to his message of remembering and fulfilling Howard’s legacy. 

The event emphasized the significance of Howard’s founding, recognizing alumni and student leaders who have exceeded expectations and maintained the standard for greatness. Thanking the university for its warm welcome, Winston expressed his conviction that Howard must remain a leader in paving a better national and global future. 

Rather than discuss the school’s history in full, he focused on listing the key characteristics that classify Howard as a unique institution amongst its competitors.

“When Howard calls, I must respond. To speak at Charter Day is a great honor and heavy responsibility,”  Winston said after rising to the podium. “I feel the scrutiny of our ancestors: genetic, civilizational, cultural, as well as those more recent men and women linked in an unbroken chain of committed effort that made this institutional moment possible.”

After graduating from Howard magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1962, six years later he was named assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts, now known as the College of Arts and Sciences. Soon afterward, he went on to become the first director of Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and spent more than 40 years as a member of the university faculty.

Amongst the crowd of about 1,000 people, Winston delivered his address at his alma mater, emphasizing Howard’s legacy, as well as its multiple generations of students and success stories.

“There is no gene for it. You become Howard through an experience that is hardly discussed,” he said. “Such a process is hardly conceivable for many people. You belong here by gaining the capacity to be who you are, to be whole in your skin, and deal with the world as it is.”

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“While we struggle to increase the resources we need to achieve our ambitious cause, I say, ‘Howard, hold on,’” Winston continued. “Hold on to our spiritual heritage, our belief in the infinite possibilities of every human being… Hold on Howard to our aspirations for national and international leadership.  Hold on Howard to that faith that enabled our earliest professors to look at students and say, ‘you will become fine contributors to the progress of humanity.’” 

President Ben Vinson III gave the remarks at convocation at Cramton Auditorium on Friday, March 1. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

The event opener and Howard’s 18th president, Dr. Ben Vinson III, expressed that he was overjoyed to take part in his first Charter Day Convocation. 

“March 2nd, 1867 was a moment of faith—a moment of extraordinary faith and the resolve and the capacity and the promise of a people,” Vinson said. “I believe this is one of the reasons why we assemble and why we gather. Our charter embodies that faith in us, and this faith is something we carry with us in our day-to-day activities. We carry it with us in our lives.”

Celebrated by students and alumni alike, Charter Day is an annual tradition celebrating the signing of the federal charter by President Andrew Johnson which officially recognized Howard as an accredited university. 

The 157th annual ceremony took place this past Friday, featuring opening contributions and performances from AFROTC Detachment 130, the HU Army Bison Battalion, the Showtime Marching Band, and “Baby Bison” from the HU Concert Chorale & Early Learning Program.

Winston’s speech resonated with many audience members, such as Armani Washington, senior honors broadcast journalism major and sociology minor from Chicago, Illinois. When asked to express her thoughts on the message, Washington, who currently serves as the 85th Ms. Howard University answered readily.

“There are trials and tribulations that come with such a strong legacy and we heard that today. Each day is just another day forward for Howard…” she said. “Hold on to those plans, hold on to those dreams, and hold on to our aspirations because our founders, the people who laid the pathway for us, did exactly that, and we should be doing the same.”

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Attendee Mia Thompson, a junior nursing major from northern Virginia, shared a similar perspective to Washington.

“To me, Charter Day means recognizing all that Howard University has done for both the Black community and the global community and to recognize the accomplishments of the students as well,” she said. “Howard, in and of itself, is a blessing. Recognizing the foundation of the school each year definitely contributes to the legacy.”

Dr. Candace Harris, Howard University Alumni Association president and triple graduate from Howard’s School of Communications, said she was awestruck listening to Winston’s message. 

“His speech was amazing. To break it down, to put it into layers for us, to really think about the dichotomy in this country in terms of the narrative that individuals want us to know versus what the real story is, to have a historian like that talk to us about holding on and holding true to who we are in the spirit of the university…I was awestruck.”

Winston concluded the ceremony with praises to Howard alumni, students, faculty and supporters as well as smiling birthday wishes for the university. Following the recitation of the university alma mater song and the benediction by Rev. Dr. Bernard L. Richardson, attendees flooded the yard and chatted before attending the 100th annual Charter Day Dinner the following day.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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