How the recent performance of Beyoncé Knowles made a powerful intersection of black power, black celebrity and HBCUs.
The lights, the camera, the black-tion.
Like an undefeated homecoming queen, Beyoncé Knowles’ recent performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sparked a resurgence of popularity of Historically Black Colleges and Universities via social media.
Her mother feared that her love letter to HBCUs would leave the majority white crowd “confused by all of the black culture and Black college culture because it was something that they might not get.”
However, Beyoncé made a statement of black pride. The entire spectacle, dubbed Beychella, featured her long-time hubby Jay-Z, sister Solange, former Destiny’s Child bandmates, and a killer marching band dance ensemble rivaling almost any drumline.
At the end of her critically acclaimed performance, she announced that her main charity, BeyGood Initiative, would give $100,000 towards the Homecoming Scholarship Program Fund specifically to benefit four HBCUs Xavier of Louisiana, Wilberforce, Tuskegee and Bethune-Cookman. The scholarship will award students at four HBCUs.
In a statement from Ivy McGregor, Director of Philanthropy and Corporate Relations at Parkwood Entertainment, the BeyGood program salutes “the rich legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
At a time when many HBCUs are struggling, Beyoncé’s performance was a win
Although this was the first time that a black woman headlined Coachella, this was not the first time Beyoncé used her platform for politically-charged performances. In 2017, she whipped the Super Bowl audience into formation with a Black Panther-styled tribute, which was quickly followed by mixed reviews.
However unbeknown to most, her performance came at a time when HBCUs are constantly being questioned of their legacy, dignity, and significance.
Just weeks earlier, the group collectively known as HU Resist, released a written statement announcing that “Howard university has failed to prioritize the interest of its student body.” The Howard University Campus was smoldered in shame as its students conducted a sit-in to voice their grievances with the Howard University Administration, primarily for misappropriation of funding.
A few miles south, North Carolina A&T experienced similar issues in regard to spending. The school’s chancellor and two other employees have been accused of improper spending.
On the contrary, several institutions are struggling to stay open, or closing due to lack of accreditation and financial resources. For example, Concordia College in Alabama will be closing its doors at the end this academic year.
Even the heads of HBCUs have been snubbed. In the beginning of Donald Trump’s Administration, a meeting between him and HBCU presidents who thought they would talk about their concerns, ended up in a photo opportunity. Ironically, tasked to invite the leaders was Howard University alumna, Omarosa Manigault-Newman served as the director of communications for the office of the public liaison.
To add to the financial woes of HBCUs, there has been a significant drop in alumni contributions. According to the HBCU foundation, with the exception of a few, “schools like Tennessee State University and Grambling State University, [have an alumni donation rate] between 3 percent and 1 percent. The University of the District of Columbia had an average of 0.1 percent.”
The Higher Education Act of 1965 asserts that the primary mission of all HBCUs is to serve black Americans. However, within the most recent decade, some institutions have become non-African American majorities.
In a recent article by Ark Republic, overall enrollment at these schools has increased over the past several decades, but at a much slower rate than national average. Furthermore, the share of black students attending HBCUs has dropped to 8.5% of the total number of black students enrolled in degree granting institutions nationwide.
While there is no straight answer to the many questions on how to remedy all of the issues at HBCUs, there is still and an abundance of HBCU pride. Beyoncé’s performance came at the perfect time. It was the monumental and necessary rebirth needed for historically black colleges and universities.
Naysayers may continue to declare that that HBCUs just aren’t good enough. At any rate, Beychella should not only inspire students to attend, but also reassess and re-affirm the quality black education within HBCUs. Now maybe, we can all get out there and make some real change.