“This do in remembrance of me.” -Beyonce, during Holy Week, reminding all y’all knee grows that your HBCU Homecomings now belong to her.
I made the right choice 15 years ago and attended Kentucky State University, home of the Mighty Marching Thorobreds, one of 106 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to study Political Science and Spanish. Imagine attending a school and the entire student body isthe Black Student Union. Four years on the yard did me good, and in the midst of littering the campus with flyers in protest of a shortage in student housing, organizing clothing drives for Hurricane Katrina survivors, and assuring the President of the University that a sit-in could happen on her front lawn, I joined (AND led AND choreographed) the dance team, the Golden Girlz.
Beyonce performed at Coachella like she was one of us. Like she knew what home was, intimately. Gisele brought her Black ass on one of the largest, whitest platforms and said, “Y’all gon get this Blackness today.” Beyonce had to have gone to K-State with me.
She swag surfed like it was homecoming week and she had just taken her last midterm without caring how she did. Had the Bug-A-Boo’s lined up like she had studied Greek probates on YouTube after seeing the real deal on campus and wondering how she could be down. Had Coachella smelling like Fried Chicken Wednesdays during campaign week and she had paid out of pocket for the mixed CD that her boyfriend told her he needed to win President of the Student Government Association.
The pride. The work ethic.
Who else but an alum could perform the way she did? How else could you explain having the vision to curate a show months in advance and convince everyone else to buy in? She danced like she wanted us to remember, like she wanted me and my teammates specifically to remember that our performances happened on land that was bestowed via a land grant. As if she knew my beloved university was atop a hill so that we could enjoy our shows, our education, our rest, hell, our fried chicken, and still keep an eye on any unusual whiteness that might approach us from below.
Beychella was a reminder of what’s waiting for us in the homes if we are intentional about building. That tradition is necessary, and through our shared experiences there is community. Of sisterhood and leadership.
I saw the spirit of Beychella in my teammate who sacrificed her food stamps so the team could have enough items for a bake sale because we needed new uniforms. Beychella reminded us that the Black National Anthem is the only one worth standing for at school, and that we can and will reclaim even the most problematic of anthems and words. That even though our schools, our villages, and our families are surrounded and informed by whiteness, we steer and navigate the mainstream.
And with the accolades and praise, Beychella’s Homecoming triggered the memories that only therapy and prayer could fix. Memories of waking up at 5 am for conditioning when there was a Latin exam at 8 am and the accompanying body-shaming that came with losing enough weight to make cuts. Of homophobia that reared its head when the members of an athletic team assaulted a gay student, and how colorism and respectability lent a hand in the campaign for the university’s queen to rise to her position instead of her court.
Beychella challenged us, a year later, to let go of talking about reparations. To stop being impressed that predominantly-white institutions (PWIs) take surveys on service fees for anticipated and alleged restorative purposes. That we still owe our hearts to Bennett College. That Flint and Puerto Rico deserve our heartache and action. That there is room, on the same stage and in the same body, for Nina Simone and Juvenile. For the Freak List and the Dean’s List.
With Homecoming, Beyonce tasked us to keep Blackness as a both a guide and a litmus test, holding up the torch that illuminates HBCUs as essential to the soul and the culture.