Howard Homecoming a Waste? No Way

Budget challenges stoke talk of irresponsibility, but this event stands to make money for the school.

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Howard University's marching band (Howard.edu)

(The Root) -- Like many Howard University alumni, I'm pretty committed to -- and really sentimental about -- my alma mater's annual homecoming weekend. I haven't missed one since I graduated.

Just as I was giddily putting the last touches on this year's plans, I received the following email, sent to The Root by a fellow alum who urged our staff to "let readers know" about the abomination about to take place surrounding the Bison's Saturday football game:

Every year Howard puts on a massive production known as Homecoming ... it is hard to ignore that Howard, once hailed as a premier educational institution is slowly sinking … Yet without fail, Howard puts on an event of Gatsby proportions despite the fact that they are entrenched in millions of dollars of debt.

It went on.

This brings up a bigger issue of African Americans sacrificing their priorities to portray a facade of luxury and glamour. We will throw caution to the wind (caution being finances set aside for mortgage, car notes, and other important monetary commitments), to portray the image that we have it all. 

I originally dismissed the message. But on second thought, I realized that this line of criticism is important to address.

That's because it represents a narrative I've heard plenty of times before ("You all love your schools so much and you go to homecoming, but I don't see you give back, and that's why they're falling apart").

It's an all-too-common line of thinking in a conversation about the issues facing HBCUs in 2013. That conversation can get really intellectually lazy, really fast. (Skim news article or, better yet, read a tweet. Add fuzzy facts. Combine with a pinch of panic and a healthy dose of the worst stereotypes about black people. Voilà! You've created some unproductive shame about celebrations that do no harm and that could actually be harnessed to do even more good.)

So I've decided to spend the Friday of this year's homecoming clearing up a few things:

Howard's real challenges are not the result of character flaws of alumni or administrators. If you follow Howard in the news, you'll remember the scathing letter from a trustee who threatened that Howard wouldn't be around in three years if the university didn't make some "crucial decisions" about its finances. The resignation of President Sidney A. Ribeau drew additional scrutiny. Moody dropped the school's ranking in a report that speculated about the difficulties associated with leadership transitions.