And it don’t stop: Morris Brown College homecoming 2016
The celebration at the embattled HBCU shows the school’s spirit is alive and well
The amount of purple in shirts, hats, jackets and, in a few cases, the hair, of the Morris Brown College alumni on campus for the annual October homecoming festivities could easily be mistaken for either a Prince tribute or a Minnesota Vikings game.
The mass of people mingling in Founders Plaza in the heart of the Atlanta-based campus left one with the feeling of being in a crowd at a sporting event or a religious revival. In some way, for so many, it was a little of both.
“It was a great weekend,” said Stanley Pritchett, president of Morris Brown College. “I had the chance to meet with alumni from all walks of life this weekend.”
A reported 5,000-6,000 alumni made the trip to Atlanta for the 135th homecoming celebration, and according to Pritchett “almost $30,000 was raised by the attendees” that will go to the school’s efforts to restore some of the glory that entranced the people on campus to come to Morris Brown in the first place.
Photographer Andrew Feiler was on campus signing copies of his book Without Regards to Sex, Race or Color and witnessed the same revival-type atmosphere. “Thousands of alumni showed, and I believe the college would not be on the cusp of re-accreditation if not for the fervor and commitment of President Pritchett and the alumni,” Feiler said. “That was on full display in the yard during homecoming.”
“I wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to fellowship with my Morris Brown College family,” said Natt Taylor, a Morris Brown alumnus and Belk-sponsored fashion designer. “Overall, it was amazing and the energy is always great. The spirit of the school is still in the air.”
If Oct. 22 had been the first time you stepped foot on the Morris Brown College campus — hard off the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive NW in Atlanta, just a few thousand feet from what will be the new home of the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium — then you were truly blessed. On that day and well into that night, the old and new, the tenured and recently graduated of Morris Brown, all came home and represented the school, its legacy and power.
For those who attend homecomings at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) that draw tens of thousands every year, Morris Brown College’s weekend might be small by comparison, but it is mighty.
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These days the Morris Brown campus isn’t always this vibrant and full of life, but the feeling is starting to return more and more. Saturday started with the homecoming parade at Washington Park that worked its way for one mile to campus with members of the Morris Brown College Band Foundation representing Marching Wolverines everywhere.
“The parade was tremendous and very well attended,” said Kelly Fanning, Morris Brown alumna and president of the Morris Brown College Band Foundation. “There were over 400 participants and it certainly added to the festive, weeklong celebration.” A reported 2,000-3,000 spectators lined the parade route down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to witness another purple-and-black spectacle. The Morris Brown College homecoming tradition continues, and it didn’t stop with the parade.
“Some of the alumni on campus and around the city at other homecoming events were celebrating their 40th class reunions while others are graduates from just a couple years ago,” Pritchett said. “It shows that there is still a level of commitment from our alumni and also shows that they want to be a part of it.” Akela Renae, a Morris Brown alumna from Dallas and author of The Cost of Baggage, made the trip home. “Honestly, since I was a freshman in 1998, I could not wait to become an alum and come back to homecoming,” she said. “In the last 18 years, I have probably only missed a handful of homecoming events since.”
There were booths full of purple swag ringing the campus as alumni and their families sang, laughed and talked in small groups. Morris Brown homecoming 2016 was the physical manifestation of what was once the norm, coming to life for all to see. Food and drinks were on sale on what was, for Atlanta, a normal 80-degree day. Live music was being played while people danced. Homecoming at Morris Brown looked just like the other HBCU celebrations going on all over the country.
“Some people are perplexed when I mention Morris Brown College homecoming,” Taylor said, “but you had to have been here to understand the strength of our bond [here at Morris Brown]. It can’t be explained.” Pritchett, an alumnus of another HBCU, understands that feeling quite well. “I’m an Albany State University alum and we had our homecoming this weekend, and so did Fort Valley State University and other schools, but all everybody can talk about is Morris Brown,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s a great feeling.”
On Oct. 20, homecoming officially started at Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard with a Morris Brown College coronation titled “Once Upon a Time … The Royal Affair.” There was a throwback ’80s day party at the administration building titled “The Purple Affair,” and a homecoming kickoff party at club Ten ATL.
On Friday morning, there was the annual Alpha Sigma Alumni Homecoming Golf Tournament at Eagles Brooke Golf Course and that afternoon, Artis Hampshire-Cowan, a Morris Brown alumnus, gave the homecoming convocation at Flipper Temple AME Church on the appropriately named Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard. The Black & Purple Party also went down on Friday night at Club Kapture in Atlanta’s downtown district. The affair was put on by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., while the ninth annual Tower of Strength gala was sponsored by the Morris Brown College Foundation Inc., taking place at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel. Saturday night’s 10th annual Official Homecoming After-Party at the Museum Bar was thrown by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. The entire Morris Brown family came out for homecoming and Atlanta was its playground.
Festivities were capped by the fifth annual Jazz Brunch, sponsored by AKA for Morris Brown College at the Twelve Hotel in tony Atlantic Station on Sunday. All proceeds from these events went to Morris Brown College. Homecoming is done, and the time to get back to business is again at hand for Morris Brown. There are still many more funds to be appropriated and more students to get signed up for classes. “It’s bittersweet because while I can’t help but to think about what I miss: the band, the [football] game, a host of new students to welcome to campus,” Taylor said. “The fact that alumni travel from near and far to celebrate our successes and our families, showing our support for one another, is a phenomenal experience.”
If you were there during homecoming at any point, you could easily understand the passion of Morris Brown College alumni and its current student body. The college was established in 1881 by the AME Church, calling for an institution in Atlanta “for the moral, spiritual and intellectual growth of Negro boys and girls.”
The purple and black simply isn’t just back — it never left. “I want people to see Morris Brown College as we saw it,” Taylor said, “as an educational institution that celebrates our differences and taught us the importance of being who we are.” Feiler added, “This is an institution that changed the lives and the families of the people who attended school here for generations.” Said Renae: “We will get through this [period]. Morris Brown College has a rich history, and we are all here to celebrate this glorious institution.”