Homecoming at any campus is the Met Gala for Historically Black College and University (HBCU) alumni. Every year, millions of people across the country make their way back to their alma mater to celebrate the history and traditions of their respective institutions. With many alumni donating to HBCUs during the weekend events, homecoming is also a season of giving.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced many campuses to shut down and cancel homecoming events, Dr. Harry L. Williams, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), decided to initiate a virtual service to not only inspire feelings typically shared on the yard at homecoming, and but also to raise money for HBCUs. Last year, the RISE (Recognizing and Investing in Student Excellence) Homecoming 2K20 event raised $3 million for the organization to support Black college students across the country.
“We started thinking about how can we continue to support our institutions and support a major event that typically happens every year on our campuses,” Williams said of the creation of the first RISE Homecoming virtual event to VIBE. “We wanted to keep some sense of normalcy up on our campuses by recognizing homecoming.”
As the pandemic continues, every school has taken a different approach to 2021’s homecoming season. Howard University is opting for a modified homecoming while Spelman and Morehouse decided to cancel altogether. Florida A&M University, among other schools, has moved forward with traditional events. While the universities have handled the threat of COVID-19 with various results, RISE returns to the digital stage again with the same goals as the inaugural event: to raise money for publicly-supported HBCUs, and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs).
“The context of why we created it was because of the lack of having that ability to engage face to face. And now, we are continuing it this year because even though our crews are back on campus, they are still scaling back homecoming,” Williams explained. “There’s still a need to let people know about the importance of this very special activity on our campuses.”
According to the official description for RISE Homecoming 2K21, the program exists to “raise funds to support TMCF and the diverse students they serve” and “showcasing the amazing talent and pride of the HBCU community with an opportunity to come together and enjoy long-standing traditions safely.”
Two DJ sets for “old school” and “new school” homecoming vibes were issued by the organization’s official Soundcloud on Thursday (Oct. 7) ahead of the weekend’s festivities. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 9, RISE 2k21 will be a two-hour immersion of Black culture and entertainment, showcasing HBCU pride. Interested audiences are directed to the TMCF website to sign up for the virtual event.
“We’re hoping to, to raise some or what we did last year to this year, a little over a million dollars,” Williams expressed. “these dollars will be used to support students and providing scholarships.”
Still, as the president of TMCF and an HBCU advocate, Williams is aware that fundraising and justification for Black schools and alumni is something that cannot be done only during homecoming season to sustain Black colleges and universities and the lineage and historical impact of HBCUs.
“One of the ways we can continue as a people, and what has happened during this pandemic, is that we have now been able to get African Americans in some of the major corporations in key roles,” said Williams. “Using that influence that you have when you are a senior vice president or senior person at a Fortune 100, Fortune 50 company to support HBCUs, that’s been a game-changer in the partnerships that we’ve been able to achieve.
“That’s the responsibility. I see that as a way of, of all of us where we assimilate into these roles that we never forget, the reason why we’ve been able to assimilate to these roles as a cause someone else had to lay the path out for you…HBCUs laid that path for so many African Americans that have gone to non HBCU but if you trace the roots, [their] parents or grandparents has some affiliation with an HBCU. The bottom line is, Blacks did not have the right to go to white schools at the end of slavery, and that was our HBCUs were birthed over 150 some odd years ago because we couldn’t go to any other place.”
RISE Homecoming 2K21 will be hosted by HBCU graduate and entertainment reporter Terrance J. The actor recognizes the importance of the fundraising event but also misses aspects of the in-person homecoming celebration.
“HBCUs are being disproportionately underfinanced. It comes from a lot of different reasons. One of the biggest reasons [is] the Black community as a whole, our hands are tied behind our back in a lot of different ways. Other communities have hundreds of years of a head start of generational wealth” he said to VIBE.
Sharing more on his personal HBCU experience, the North Carolina A&T alumnus added, “It’s hard to describe what the love feels like when you walk onto an HBCU campus, but you can feel it is in the air.
“I graduated in 2004, so it’s been a long time, and I still am close with my line brothers. I’m still close with a lot of people I went to college with. I still feel that camaraderie to this day, and it’s something that’s indescribable that you can only feel at an HBCU.”
With Jazze Pha DJing the event, Migos, Moneybagg Yo, Justine Skye, Sevyn Streeter, North Carolina A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine, and the North Carolina Central University Sound Machine and Choir will perform for the virtual homecoming.
RISE 2K21 will air the celebration and concert on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on AspireTV and TMCF’s YouTube channel.