Recently the university administration announced that in order to ensure the safety of students and alumni, the 2021-2022 homecoming would be a virtual event for alumni and student events would be held at limited capacity. In addition to all events being virtual, only current students will be allowed into the homecoming game. While this situation is not ideal, it is a major improvement from the previous year of no homecoming at all. In the months leading up to homecoming, I had the opportunity to attend the homecoming of a large midwestern PWI, and from this new experience I was able to make comparisons with the last full Tuskegee homecoming (2019). With these comparisons, I was able to fully understand and appreciate Tuskegee’s homecoming for what it is; a complete celebration/reunion of us as a university, as a people, and as a family. And while it may seem like just another superficial party to outsiders, to us in the family it is a vital cog in the Tuskegee experience that we have gone without far too long.
Here, the comparison between the 2019 Tuskegee homecoming and the 2021 University of Michigan (UofM) homecoming will be elaborated. The University of Michigan is a very large, rich, and white private institution located in Ann Arbor Michigan, with famous alumni such as Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, James Earl Jones, Michael Phelps, and others. It’s also safe to say they take homecoming just as seriously as we do. Before arriving, traffic was blocked up for about 30 minutes on the freeway and the surrounding city was bustling like a massive ant hill with alumni, students, and fans. I would later find that there were over 100,000 people in attendance, with notable businesses such as MGM Grand, Ford, Fan Duel, and a plethora of others. But even with all of the extra money and notoriety force fed into this homecoming, it was not able to give me the same feelings of acceptance nor the inviting atmosphere that Tuskegee and other HBCUs are able to provide for their students and alumni.
While I am sure local students and alumni had a great time, the atmosphere set by the event was clearly not constructed with HBCU students in mind. This became very clear throughout the day; whether it was the unmotivating music played by the school band and over the speakers, the weird glances I would get from other attendees when rap or African American music was played, the eye-rolls from wearing a mask, the extremely heavy conservative presence seen in the form of All Lives Matter, Back the Blue, or MAGA apparel, or the fact that the first time I saw a person that looked like me was when the team ran on the field. While there was no clear or overt racism or discrimination, and that in its entirety there is nothing wrong with catering to the majority of their students and alumni, it is for these exact reasons why HBCU homecomings are so important. Having spaces where black students and alumni can come together in a safe and welcoming environment caters to our cultural preferences.
The 2019 Tuskegee homecoming, on the other hand, was a full culture shock, The Black Market Expo, the Step Show, FCW, the silent party, and of course the actual game. The atmosphere was very friendly, and my entire family was able to partake in the festivities and have a good time. All of the events were full of culture that could be seen in the music choice, the attire, the food, and dances. There was also a strong sense of community felt by everyone attending the events. This sense of community was so strong that one night on the Ave some of the nupes let my brothers play with the canes they used during their performances.
The game itself was also very different from that of UofM. Even though the field at Tuskegee does not have an entire stadium with box seating and a jumbotron, it had way more to offer. Even though we don’t have huge bleachers and box seating, it was much more amazing to see all of the RVs, tents, and cars along with the entirety of the shed and bleachers full of students and alumni. The band was worlds better than that of UofM, playing classics like Melodies From Heaven, Ball and Parley, Stevie Wonder, and a variety of other great musical choices. This is why the Homecoming has such a special place in the hearts of many HBCU students; for myself and many others, it was the first experience in an environment specially curated for our culture and preferences.