“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”
Toni Morrison, Howard University 1953
That was how Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé began its journey of Black excellence. The documentary, starring Beyoncé Knowles Carter, takes you on the eight-month preparation of her 2018 performances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The now historic show marked Mrs. Carter as being the first African American Woman to headline the festival since it started in 1993. Not only was this a historical moment for Coachella, but it was the symbolic homecoming of her return to the stage since having her twin babies.
Beyoncé put a lot of thought into her performance, especially wanting to find a way to expose her beloved Beyhive to another side of her, which was her passion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The inspiration was weaved carefully thought out the execution of her performances. From the musical arrangements of her chart-topping hits to the rhinestones on the costumes of the over 200 dancers, musicians, and background singers on stage, Homecoming gave her fans the HBCU experience without even having to go to class.
The History of HBCUs
“Education must not simply teach work– it must teach life.”
W.E.B. DuBois, Fisk University 1888
Officially, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are American institutions of higher education that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. The purpose for these institutions were needed after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in the southern United States. Segregation enhanced the need for the schools when predominantly white colleges refused to enroll Blacks into their schools.
In the 1930s, there was on record to be more than 121 HBCUs in existence, however, the Civil Rights Act also hurt the institutions with allowing Blacks to enroll in all schools in the country. As of today, there are 101 official HBCUs that offer programs ranging from associate degrees to doctorates and everything in between.
Some well know graduates of HBCUs are actress Taraji P. Henson (North Carolina A & T/ Howard University), Actor Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College), California Senator and Democratic Presidental Hopeful, Kamala Harris (Howard University), and Georgia Democratic Gubotorial Candidate Stacy Abrams (Spellman College).
The Marching Band Experience
Mention in the film, Beyoncé confides her love for HBCUs that started with her parents taking her to football games at Prairie View University and dance rehearsals at Texas Southern University was all of the inspiration Knowles Carter needed to create the best music festival performance of all time.
Going back to football, attending a game is VERY different than if you were going to a Division I game. For one thing, very few of the fans go to see the team. Instead, they want to see their school’s marching band perform for the entire duration of the game. The pride for their school’s marching band develops early in one’s life for no one gets disappointed by of the showmanship and entertainment pizzazz of the full-time students who put into the scores of music needing to be memorized. There’s even camaraderie between the two school’s bands as they try to outperform each other for bragging rights, which makes it a competition in itself.
Thank You, Beyoncé
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Marian Wright Edelman, Spellman College 1959
Minutes into the performance, Beyoncé gave her rendition of the “Black National Anthem” Lift Every Voice And Sing, lyrics written by Atlanta University (now called Clark Atlanta University) graduate James Weldon Johnson and later adapted musically by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, which was also sung by her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter (whom knows a lot more lyrics than most adults which is very impressive) in the documentary and its soundtrack. The anthem universally binds all of the schools together having them performed it at all of their sporting, artistic, and scholastic events.
Just like Morrison, Beyoncé surrounded herself to her culture of being a southerner, and African American, and, of course, a woman.
So thank you Beyoncé. Thank you for showing your love for HBCUs to everyone around the world. Thank you for the philanthropic support you have given these institutions in the past, and thank you for showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities front-and-center where they belong.