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In his song “Used to,” Drake raps that he has bands like he went to Jackson State or Grambling, Clark-Atlanta or Hampton. Of course, Drizzy’s wordplay refers to two kinds of bands – the marching kind that take the field at HBCU football halftime shows, and the kind that you wrap around bricks of cash.
For many Southern cities and residents, homecoming and football classics are important for The Culture, civic pride and the local economy.
The economic piece is vital to the host cities, many of which are majority-Black and fighting for their survival.
But to keep it a buck, it’s also crucial because after the pandemic shelved these celebrations of school pride and Black excellence (along with cookouts and family reunions), a lot of just want to hang with our people again.
So no matter what school you rep, cue Maze’s “Before I Let go” and get ready to go Swag Surfin’.
It’s homecoming and classics season, y’all. It’s finna be lit.
If you enjoy this newsletter, forward it to someone who went to a rival school that you love trash talking on gameday.
Starr’s back next week
—R.L., Alexis, Kavolshaia
Thee She Loves
Ashlee Kelly wanted folks to have their fun before she went online to start complaining.
After all, her alma mater, Jackson State University, had just boasted attendance of more than 53,000 Tiger fans – the most ever for an HBCU homecoming football game, the Mississippi school claimed.
But Kelly, an urban planner by trade, saw opportunity for both Jackson State and the Mississippi capital the university calls home.
“Next year, this entire city should transform into Tiger nation. School colors, banners and tigers should be on every corner. Some may or may not like it, but Jackson State is the flagship university in Jackson. When you go to Baton Rouge there is no doubt that everyone supports LSU,” she wrote in a post that was shared widely by Jacksonians.
“If we did this for not only Jackson State’s homecoming but the other colleges and universities in Jackson, we could probably afford to fix this infrastructure among other things.”
Jackson’s population of approximately 154,000 has declined over the past few decades. And like many majority-Black Southern cities, it has struggled with raising revenue to maintain streets, fix potholes and improve its water and sewer systems.
Kelly, a New Orleans native, said she saw comments online about homecoming revelers eating at restaurants and staying at hotels in the suburbs outside of Jackson. Kelly believes the city missed out on snagging a little more well-needed cash.
She knows a little something about seizing opportunities. After working in the city of Jackson’s planning department, Kelly and her architect husband, Akili, started a business building tiny homes. Now, the company offers a range of additional services, such as architectural design and zoning and land-use consultation.
“Just like you when you go to a conference, there’s a portal. It tells you about the hotels, the restaurants and things to do(in the city). I think that would have been easier for a lot of people. I always think of small businesses and how can they benefit from the influx of people here,” she told Reckon.
With five colleges and universities headquartered in Jackson, Kelly believes such a portal could also be used to benefit other schools and help Jackson better market itself as a college town. Local businesses could display decals as official sponsors, offering deals to homecoming fans and possibly donating a portion of the boosted revenue back to the school.
As a busy doctoral student at Jackson State, she’s not sure she has the bandwidth to take on the endeavor (she also started a podcast called JXN Transplants). However, if no one picks up the torch by next summer, she’ll consider taking on the project.
“I think it’s easier for everyone,” she said of the streamlining proposal. “It’s easier for the people who are attending, easier for the people who are hosting and it’s beneficial to the small businesses.”
All Eyes on HBCU sports
With NFL hall-of-famers like Deion Sanders and Eddie George taking the helm at Jackson State and Tennessee State University football programs, respectively, and highly rated athletes choosing to suit up for teams in the Southwestern (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern (MEAC) athletic conferences, HBCUs are becoming an increasingly hot ticket.
On October 30, the Magic City Classic takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, between Alabama A&M and Alabama State. The game is billed as the nation’s oldest and largest classic.
Dates for other exciting classic games have already passed, including the annual matchups between Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern at the Labor Day Classic in Houston and the Battle of the Real HU between always boisterous Howard and Hampton universities.
But you still have time to get tickets for the supercharged rivalry between Louisiana’s Grambling State and Southern at the Bayou Classic on Nov. 27.
In December, both the SWAC and MEAC host their respective conference championship games, with the winner of each meeting at the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.
More than kickin’ it
Who doesn’t love the pomp and circumstance of homecoming, especially at HBCUs?
Nonetheless – and HBCU alumni are quick to check you on this – HBCUs have vastly more to offer than electrifying battle-of-the-bands halftime shows and Divine 9 step shows.
Reckon’s Alexis D. Wray recently caught up with Jared Ball, a communications professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, who is sounding the alarm about racist myths, such as students only attend HBCUs to kick it then refuse to give back once they graduate.
In fact, Ball posits, myths about wealth, buying power and the value of college degrees are rampant. Ball spoke with Alexis about why, systemically speaking, HBCUs have smaller budgets and his book “Myths and Propaganda of the Black Buying Power.”
“I think the struggles of HBCUs reflect the struggles of Black people more broadly speaking in this country. They are treated unequally, they are downplayed in their importance historically, they are under-appreciated, and they are marginalized,” Ball said.
Read more from Ball, including how mainstream media perpetuate harmful tropes about Black spending power.
Keep spreading your Black Joy, y’all! See ya’ next time!