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Reflections on Howard University’s Sesquicentennial

With the theme of “The Time is Always Now,” one of the nation’s most prominent historically Black colleges and universities, Howard University, recently celebrated its sesquicentennial — 150 years of providing academic opportunities and educational excellence to students of color (and others) from around the globe — with great fanfare, pomp and circumstance.

And while students and their families, faculty, staff and alums enjoyed a host of festivities, workshops, late night soirees, parades and even a homecoming football game victory on the gridiron, they also paused to reflect upon the many issues that still plague the Black community and their beloved university.

Some who joined the dayslong celebration have become household names in America — from Nick Cannon, La La Anthony and Molette Green to Laz Alonso and the Rev. Dr. James Forbes. But others with lesser-known monikers but who have made equally significant contributions to their communities, their countries and beyond, stood front and center to engage on the past and future of both Howard University and Black America.

Here are some of their comments:

“In the next 10 years I hope to see great change. A lot of times we do things for show — like we’re about titles and looking good. But I’d rather see us doing something that matters rather than just looking like we’re making progress,” said Brianna Bennett, 21, a junior, resident assistant and Computer Information Systems major.

First-year graduate student in the Education Leadership and Policy Studies Program Brianna Clark said she’s proud of Howard’s legacy but has some suggestions for improvement.

“Some of the university’s processes are antiquated like how to fill out applications or forms and how to make appointments. They need to increase technology access for students. However, I am impressed with the tradition and pride for Howard; they’re doing a lot of great things in terms of being the leaders. My program is the first of its kind so I’m honored to be a part of the first cohort and excited to see what the next 100 years has in store,” said Clark, 26.

“I love this place. This is where I learned just about everything I know. It feels like family here and just like every family has their issues, we have ours. That doesn’t mean that our issues are OK and we should just live with them but for me, the good way outweighs the bad,” said Brian Adamson, an engineer and member of the HU Class of ’01.

Freda Wilson, who graduated from Howard in 1994 and works as an artistic director, said that while she loves and supports the university 100 percent, she’s concerned about some things that are no longer up to par.

“Howard should remain at the top as a leading university. I was a bit dismayed when I saw the Showtime Marching Band which used to be a big thing. To see the band go from 100 strong to its much smaller representation we had at our 150th year was disconcerting. Then, for our brother school to come out and give such a good show at our homecoming saddened me,” she said.

Angela Riles, Class of ’91 and an art teacher, says Howard was never in her plans, perhaps because she’s a D.C. native. But her parents had only HU in their minds for her.

“I was born and raised in Northwest so I wanted to go to Fisk or FAMU, anywhere far, far away from here. But my parents weren’t having it so I came here kicking and screaming. Now I thank God that my parent’s didn’t let me have my way. I got so strong here dealing with the normal HBCU struggles and I am really better for it,” said Riles, 47.

Candace Johnson, 17, continues a family legacy set by both of her parents.

“I’ve been dreaming of coming here for as long as I can remember and so far it’s everything I hoped it would be. I keep hearing about “Old Howard” and how new Howard doesn’t compare but I’m pretty happy with my experience. I know it’s year 150 for Howard but it’s year one for me and I’m just happy to be a part of it all,” said the freshman elementary education major.

Retired high school basketball coach Miles Dawson says he celebrates his memories but has concerns over the physical decay of some of the university’s buildings.

“I love this place and everyone who knows me knows that, but much needs to change. I’ve been walking through buildings all weekend that look identical to how they looked when I was here, cracked walls, leaks and all. That’s not OK. It’s great to reminisce but I want the current students to be able to have the best conditions possible for learning and that starts with making sure these buildings stay updated and safe,” said Dawson, 54, who graduated from Howard in 1983.

Pam Sota, a chef and member of the class of ’79, says she came back for homecoming and to bask in the many positive memories she and her family have formed because of the Howard experience.

“We all walked this same yard and many of us had the same professors. It makes me so happy to see all of these new students out here making a way for themselves just like we did. I want them to keep pushing to make Howard better and holding administration accountable to give them the best service and best experience money can buy. Because this place isn’t cheap and at year 150 we should be raising the bar constantly and not taking no for an answer,” said Sota, 59.

“Coming back to celebrate 150 years and homecoming has really gotten me emotional this weekend. I have friends that went to HBCUs and we can relate on a lot of things. We all struggled through administration issues and had our times on the yard, but there’s something about meeting another Bison that is different. It’s almost like you just get it. It just makes me smile,” said Leslie Ryan, 40, Howard University Class of ’99 and a medical student.

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