After I graduated college in 2001, I moved back to New York to start my career. Occasionally, I made it back down south to attend Homecoming, but my post-college life rarely gave me time to attend annually. Yet, in 2018, Beyoncé amplified the connectedness and beautiful tradition of Homecoming in a way that forced me to be honest about all the things I missed or took for granted while I was in undergrad—there is something powerful about coming home.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival began in 1999 and after nineteen years, Beyonce became the first Black woman to headline the festival. One of the biggest performers of my generation used her historical moment to show the beauty of an HBCU homecoming and it was divine. The 2-hour performance was so detailed and deeply moving that the following year, she released a Netflix film documenting the entire performance, preparation, and artistry of the show. The film, aptly entitled “Homecoming” was a love letter to HBCUs everywhere.
Her show was packed with replicas of Black Greek letter organizations (BGLO), marching bands, and even paraphernalia. Although the letters embroidered on the yellow hoodie she wore, when she sang “Lift Every Voice,” weren’t an actual BGLO, the symbolism felt intentional. This should come as no surprise. Like OutKast, Beyonce has never shied away from her Southern roots. She’ll belt out “Houston Texas baby” in the middle of a song without missing a beat. I don’t think anyone that has watched her career trajectory was surprised to see this proud Black Southern woman honor the culture she was raised in. I, for one, wasn’t shocked, I was nostalgic.
When I watched her show I found myself reflecting on my own college homecoming experience. After I graduated, I turned into that person who swears they would stay better connected, but never truly does. On the few occasions that I did attend Homecoming, it was only because I missed my sorority sisters. During my sophomore year, I pledged…I mean “went through intake process” for Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated. I grew close to the women I “crossed the burning sands with.” During my final years as an undergrad, they really became like family.
The first years post-graduation, I would pause my life in New York and fly back to South Carolina for a weekend to attend our Homecoming. Every Homecoming, I shared a room with Jamika Knox, my cool-ass sorority sister who was from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Mika was a beautiful girl. Southern, thick, caramel brown skin, with a contagious laugh and magnetic personality. We weren’t especially close in undergrad. We liked each other well enough, but rarely hung out together.
Being in a sorority was not that different from being in a large family. All my cousins are my cousins. Yet, mess with one of them and I’ll check you. Doesn’t matter if it’s the cousin I spent summers sharing a seat with on a long ride from NY to NC, or the faceless cousin I played with once a year. They were all mine. I felt the same way about my sorority sisters who pledged at my college. So, getting closer to Mika after college and reconnecting at homecoming wasn’t exactly a stretch. Every time I forced her to go to Zaxbys with me during our weekend, she would playfully roll her eyes and oblige despite how utterly common she found the food chain and I would love her even more.
It was in those small moments that I wondered why we weren’t closer in college. Every trip back south to attend Homecoming I took off the rose-colored glasses, resisted the allure of selective amnesia, and told myself as much truth as I could take. Homecoming—or rather going back home—never lets me depart without a bit more truth.