Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
The annual SpelHouse Homecoming celebration recently took place in Atlanta and what a time it was. SpelHouse, of course, is the portmanteau of Spelman College and Morehouse College, two illustrious historically Black colleges eternally linked due to the proximity of both schools — across the street (more like parking deck now) from one another — in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. I’m a 2001 graduate of Morehouse College, and I try to go to homecoming every single year. I love it; it’s chicken soup for the soul. I get to see some of my favorite people that I only see once a year and enjoy being back in a space that is essential to the story of who I am today. There’s nothing like an HBCU homecoming, but there’s especially nothing like a SpelHouse Homecoming.
To that end, I (of course) have a few takeaways I’d like to share with the congregation. As I’ve been going for over 20 years now, I’ve witnessed the growth and such, so it’s always fun to both partake in the revelry AND observe for research purposes. Allow me to share.
1. Look, I don’t know whose homecoming is the best, and I realize it’s subjective, and I’m not prone to hyperbole … but ain’t no way SpelHouse isn’t top 2. And we ain’t 2. There’s just no way.
I have no scientific basis for this but who needs that when we have anecdotal evidence of upwards of 30,000 folks and a tailgate situation that other schools could all learn from (including those schools that used to be at the top)? Again, no proof, but Lil Wayne was claiming to be the greatest rapper alive and at some point, it was just true. Facts gon’ fact.
2. I think I walked on the grass on Spelman’s Oval for the first time in my life.
On the Friday of homecoming weekend, Spelman College has always had a supercharged Market Friday situation. Market Friday is when a ton of vendors and such converge on campus and so do a bazillion people who are in town (and students). Me and the homies were wondering why Market Friday seemed so light until we realized we were in the wrong place; Market Friday had moved to Spelman’s Oval — a grassy area near Giles Hall (you saw that in the b-roll for “A Different World”) and several dorms and buildings on campus. It’s basically their version of “the yard” in most places. Thing is, as a student, I distinctly remember signs all over aggressively imploring us not to walk on the grass. It was a thing. And how do you know I know it was a thing? Because I had so many convos with folks — as we stood on the grass — talking about how we couldn’t believe we were doing it. And you had no choice, Amazon had a HUGE stage and setup on the Oval and vendors, etc. Look, I realize it sounds like it should not be a big deal, but I assure you, I felt a way about it and tried to walk on the sidewalks I was used to as much as possible.
At the same time …
3. Market Friday on The Oval was a move that I can’t believe hasn’t always been a thing.
The number of people I saw out there was insane, and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t just the standard. But it speaks both to the number of people coming and the need for space and how things have just changed. The Oval leveled up the Spelman College part of the homecoming experience in significant ways.
4. SpelHouse tailgating has also leveled up in major ways.
Listen, I don’t know if I just always stick to the rivers and lakes that I’m used to and didn’t notice the expanding footprint, but I saw parts of the campus being used for tailgate purposes that I truly had never seen before. There was a whole new section (to me) on a back lawn that had tons of tents, setups, bars and installations that had me all perplexed. It, too, was packed as a mug and was a great tension reliever for the main drags on West End Avenue and Westview Drive, but man, either it has always been there and been super duper exclusive during homecoming or the sheer numbers of expected people required Morehouse to find more space, and they did. This meant more club-like tents, installations, RVs, bands, DJs, experiences and opportunities for tomfoolery. I love it.
5. If you don’t enjoy a little claustrophobia, an HBCU homecoming is not for you.
I suppose this goes without saying but, whew chile, if you don’t like walking through crowds in a sardine-like fashion knowing you’re going to be stuck like that for hours on end, maybe homecoming isn’t your wave. Or you need to buy a tent space and post up there the whole time because it is a marathon, not a sprint, getting through the crowds. Always wear comfortable shoes.
6. The number of folks trying to be autumn fly despite the summer temperatures was slightly amusing.
Look, I checked the weather reports and even I tried to show up with a Morehouse College hoodie on. But I abandoned that mission when it was 78 degrees at 11 a.m. and the high was projected to be in the 80s, which means 90s when you’re surrounded by 30,000 Black folks with sunlight beating down on you. Perfect weather, but all of the heavy jackets, sweaters and hoodies that looked amazing really became inconvenient really quickly. With that said, I really appreciated the homecoming ‘fits I saw folks rocking. I love HBCUs so much for how fly we are.
7. My squad (nor graduated class) had a tent this year. The need for it became very apparent to me very early.
Not having a homebase with seats, liquor, food and shade definitely became more of an issue as the day went along. It wasn’t the worst thing, of course, but I definitely am willing to chip all the way in next year to get that old thang back. Because I would have loved a place to sit and chill in the shade. Now, I do realize that means you have to be there to set things up and then break things down but perhaps that work is worth it as you get older. I’m just saying that I’m looking forward to having a place to sit next year.
8. HBCU homecomings seem to be more of a thing than ever nowadays.
As an HBCU alum, homecoming has always been part of the culture. I’m not even sure how it was imbued into my soul as a thing, but at this point, it’s part of the DNA. But I have never heard so many people talking about homecoming, Homecoming SZN or going to folks’ homecomings as I have this year. Maybe it’s coming out of the pandemic. Maybe it’s social media and all of the homecoming content, but I swear folks — especially from white schools — who never cared seemed invested. I love that. African America approves.
9. This is getting long so I’ll keep this one short: There really ain’t nothing like an HBCU homecoming experience.
It can either overwhelm you or feel like the world’s biggest hug, but either way, it’s a thing that I would love all of us to have the chance to experience. The kind of love on display at homecoming really feels refreshing. For me, it’s just part of my life and will be part of my children’s lives; I wish everybody could know the feeling of seeing that person you’ve literally known for 20-plus years that you rarely see but you hug like you can’t live without them. That’s the feeling I get from being at homecoming. I want that for everybody. (Unless you hate people.)
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).
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