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HBCU Homecoming

There’s no homecoming like an HBCU homecoming

Morehouse senior says Howard homecoming with his mom was full of unity, love and the smell of fried fish

As we inched down Georgia Avenue, the aroma of fresh fried fish filled the air. And as we crept closer to the entrance of the school, I saw swarms of people decked out in Howard paraphernalia. My mother, who normally wore beautiful blouses and pantsuits, traded in her professional attire for a Howard University alum hoodie and sneakers just like many people in the crowd. The voice on the radio, which was tuned in to WHUR 96.3, shouted, “It’s homecoming, y’all!” Once we found street parking, we went onto a campus filled with vendors selling delicious food, one-of-a-kind paraphernalia and stylish college students. That day we danced, we laughed and we made memories that I have yet to forget.

Laurette LeGendre as a freshman in 1972 at Howard University

Laurette LeGendre as a freshman in 1972 at Howard University

From the tender age of 7, I was introduced to the atmosphere at a historically black college through the annual event of homecoming. The unity and familylike environment among black people made me want to be a part of the experience for the rest of my life. And as I just celebrated my final homecoming as an undergraduate at Morehouse College, I started to reflect on these bygone times and memories I’ve yet to create. My love for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) stems from my mother exposing me to them at a young age. How did she come to love her institution to the point that she passed on the experience to me? While beginning her freshman year in 1972 and graduating in 1977 from her five-year architecture program, she developed a love for her alma mater beyond compare.

“You see, before going to Howard, I went to majority white high schools. There were 15 black students out of a class of 244,” Laurette LeGendre said. “But when I got to Howard, I was exposed to black people from all around the world who came from different cultural and economic backgrounds. But homecoming was our chance to interact with each other on a nonacademic level. We would party and socialize in hopes of creating friendships and continuing unity.”

Although the purpose of homecoming is for the alumni, students use the week to alleviate stress and have fun. But the main goal is to participate in this iconic experience that alumni and upperclassmen brag about all year long. I grew to understand why homecoming was such a big deal. It’s a time to reconnect with people you may not see all year. As I navigated the streets full of thousands of people this year at tailgate, I was repeatedly stopped. Stopped by classmates whom I had not seen in weeks, and old Morehouse brothers who served as mentors to me during my matriculation. I could only imagine what kind of camaraderie I will feel once I graduate and come back.

I hope it will be the same camaraderie that my mother had with her classmates. The ones I grew up calling “uncle” and who would treat me as if I were their nephew. By being a part of the HBCU culture, ideals were ingrained in me from a young age. A student attends college in hopes of earning an education that is tailored for him or her. But as a black student, there are few spaces that were made with you in mind.

“You don’t really understand the homecoming experience until you leave. Back in my day, we didn’t have cellphones and social media. So homecoming was our way of catching up,” LeGendre said. “Now that social media exists, I’m not sure if it holds the same principle. A lot of our homecoming moments aren’t documented, and I feel like that’s what makes them extra special.”

I had to constantly remind myself to leave my phone in my pocket and just enjoy my final homecoming. As a big social media junkie, it’s evident that the obsession of sharing moments can hinder your firsthand experience. When you’re too concerned about getting the right Instagram photo in hopes of getting tons of likes, then you’ve already lost the moment. I shared laughs with my friends and relived our past four years in the Atlanta University Center. It’s not documented, but that’s OK with me.

“It wasn’t about forcing you to go to an HBCU. The choice was completely up to you. But I knew that you wouldn’t regret going to an HBCU. They make you a stronger person because you leave having a strong sense of who you are,” LeGendre said. “Howard was my family away from family. I wanted to expose you to the homecoming experience because it was a way of showing you positive black images. Instead of looking up to reality TV shows, you would be able to look up to professionals and aspire to be like them.”

As I strolled down Brown Street and smelled the fresh fried fish, heard the soulful old-school R&B and saw people burst out in gut-busting laughter, I was transported to my first homecoming. The homecoming experience that triggered the domino effect. Attending an HBCU is more than being present in an atmosphere where culture is the foundation for unity. You will be challenged to reach a level of success unimaginable. College is not easy. But without the constant motivation from my classmates, whom I consider brothers and sisters, then I wouldn’t have been able to see my potential. And years from now, when I have my own children, I hope to instill the same values. That my time at an HBCU was much more than a good time. It was an uplifting experience that prepared me to deal with an obstacle ahead of me.