|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Homecoming draws thousands of alumni and students to the social and athletic event of the year at historically black colleges and universities like 2019 at Johnson C. Smith University. After canceling 2020 get-home activities due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools have taken action to restrict in-person gatherings this year.|
At North Carolina A&T State University, reunions are more than a football game, parades and step shows.
It’s the family.
For historically black colleges and universities like A&T, the annual gathering of alumni, faculty and students on campus for the biggest game and social event of the year is a family reunion and an opportunity to rediscover their alma mater.
“No matter what challenges we face in life, nothing soothes soul and spirit more than the comradeship of classmates to remember the years gone by,” said Cynthia Ham, a former student of A&T . âNC A&T is currently the largest HBCU in the country. Each year at the reunion, we can see how fresher, bigger, more vibrant and important to the fabric of our country the campus is. “
The country’s 106 HBCUs make up just 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, but they produce nearly 20% of all African American graduates and 25% of African American graduates in science, technology, l engineering and mathematics.
âOne of my favorite teachers was Dr. Highsmith-Quick,â Ham said. âShe was an accounting trainer who taught us not only business numbers, but also life numbers. She was a tough teacher who expected greatness; we still kiss during GHOE, âshort for A&T’sâ Greatest Homecoming on Earth â.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tempered returns home over the past two years as schools like A&T, Johnson C. Smith, and Howard universities have reduced or eliminated in-person activities except sporting events . Winston-Salem State University, for example, implements COVID-19 protocols for returning home, with the exception of tailgating at Bowman-Gray Stadium.
Fans won’t need to complete the vaccination or testing verification for the tailgate, but must have it to enter the football game. Everyone must show vaccination and testing verification for college sanctioned events and masks will be required.
Still, the spirit of homecoming is alive, as students and alumni are eager to support each other and to support those who rise up behind them, in person or virtually.
âThe coming home experience is extremely important,â said LaCrystal Davis, A&T graduate and founder of a nonprofit organization. âAs a resident and educator of Greensboro, I have seen the growth of the campus firsthand with the new buildings and programs that have been added to the campus over the years, as well as the many scholarship opportunities available to students.â
Each year, alumni proudly wear their school colors as part of their goal to attend an HBCU. For many, the love and support they received on campus has been the key to launching a successful career.
âAnother great instructor was Dr. Meada Gibbs,â Ham said. âShe showed us how to walk, talk, and shine in American business – and always brush your tongue before heading to an important meeting,â Ham said. âDr. Gibbs has passed away, but his lessons live on in me.
This stimulating environment is a selling point for HBCUs, where small class sizes open the door for interaction between faculty and students – many of whom are the first in their families to attend university. Reunions are an opportunity for students and alumni to thank and give to the next.
“I saw a teacher welcome one of his students for nine months during the pandemic to make sure they had a place to stay,” said Robyn Evans, a student at Howard University. âThis is the kind of commitment our teachers have.
Kiya Armstrong, a student at Central University of North Carolina, said: âThe HBCU homecoming experience is something that brings me joy, seeing all the people come together and fellowship, bringing in the alumni and allowing you to network with them is a great opportunity. ”
While homecoming is anything but traditional, students are always happy to bond with those who once held their positions.
âI know I can still reach out to my alumni network despite virtual events, I love talking to them because it reminds me of the end goal,â said Lauryn Brown, A&T student.
Even without the pageantry, step shows and alumni galas, there is still a buzz that accompanies coming home as well as the celebration and legacy of black college culture.
“The reunion is a chance to see the history of my university come to life. Generations of alumni and current students all show their pride and love for their university at the same time, it is exhilarating,” said Jade Hightower, student at Winston-Salem State University. âI can’t wait to come back as a former student. “