As Howard University students, alumni and community members prepared to take part in late October homecoming festivities, several students entered their second week of nonviolent resistance in what has been called the Blackburn Takeover.
Throughout much of last weekend, protesters boycotted HU homecoming, choosing instead to host unsanctioned campus activities that not only raised awareness about their cause but attracted the support of political and industry titans.
University officials attempted to stop what became known as “Blackburn Homecoming”’ by turning on lawn sprinklers in front of the Blackburn University Center. Protesters also alleged that university officials threatened disciplinary action against Black Greek letter organizations who performed in an unsanctioned step show.
However, efforts to blunt the protest didn’t deter some, like one freshman who asked to be called Alexis from attending Blackburn Homecoming.
“A lot of students don’t realize this is a fight for thousands of students to breathe healthy air in their rooms and not have rats,” Alexis said.
Alexis spent much of the weekend in front of Blackburn with her friends grooving to the sounds of contemporary hip-hop, R&B and go-go blaring from a jumbo speaker, even as HU’s marching band performed several yards away.
Though internally conflicted about not having the conventional homecoming experience, Alexis continued to stand in solidarity with The Live Movement, HU’s Young Democratic Socialists of America and other groups pressing for better on-campus conditions.
“Howard was my dream college since high school. Had I known what was going on here, I would have changed my mind,” she said.
“I’ve tried to complain to people about Howard and they told me not to say anything. How can they expect me to do that when it gets worse?”
When HU homecoming festivities ended Sun Oct. 24, Blackburn Takeover entered its 12th day.
By that time, several undergraduate and graduate student protesters had been stationed in Blackburn and dozens of tents scattered in the yard near the front of the building. A clash between students and police officers circulated on Instagram and other social media platforms which only intensified calls for HU administrators to fulfill students’ demands.
Over the last few weeks, student-led protests for safe housing conditions, reinstatement of affiliate board of trustee positions and a town hall meeting with HU President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick have garnered much national attention.
Inspiring similar protests in Atlanta, where students at Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse, Spelman and Morris Brown colleges echoed the Howard students’ complaint, the Blackburn takeover also compelled trap music artist Gucci Mane to cancel plans to perform at HU’s homecoming concert.
The Blackburn Takeover also caught the attention of District hip-hop juggernaut Wale who brought food for protesting Blackburn students. The ongoing protest found support from the DuPont Brass Band performing in front of Blackburn. Meanwhile, students organized a step show and block party in the spirit of the Blackburn Homecoming.
One HU graduate student said she wanted to split her time between studying and participating in Blackburn Homecoming. However, she expressed concern about HU-affiliated Black-owned businesses that would be detrimentally affected by the boycott.
“The only thing I paid for was the homecoming game but I will support the baby Bison,” said the HU School of Social Work student who asked to be called Essence.
“I didn’t know there were so many people going through issues. I’m trying to figure out how to get more of our co-workers involved within their mental capacity,” she said.
During HU homecoming weekend, officials renamed the 2400 block of 4th Street NW in honor of Lucy Diggs Slowe, an HU alumna who, during an illustrious career in education, served as HU’s dean of women. Students and alumni also took part in traditional homecoming festivities including a Greek step show, a fashion show and a football game between Howard University and Norfolk State University. Howard lost 45-31.
Meanwhile, HU alumnus Elijah “Dvine” held down the fort at Blackburn as a DJ, setting the mood with a cadre of tunes during Blackburn Homecoming events and offering moral support when students faced overt opposition from university officials.
In explaining his rationale for attending the unsanctioned university event, “Dvine” said that Howard’s administration has chosen to ignore students’ voices, much to their detriment and that of the university.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic and Howard has a homecoming in the middle of a protest for proper housing,” said the 2018 Howard graduate.
“How are we even going to come home to a moldy house with bugs in the shower and a rat infestation? We’re not even in homes. This is a tent-coming.”