Your Break Between Classes

The Symbiosis of Howard Homecoming and Georgia Avenue

Alana Matthew | 101 Magazine Sankofa Books and Cafe. Photo by Jamaica Kalika

Howard University’s Homecoming is synonymous with the Howard experience. The significance of this week is unparalleled, including iconic events like Yardfest, the Fashion and Step shows, and of course the Homecoming tailgate and football game.

Homecoming is a sacred tradition to those who attend HBCUs, and with Howard as one of the most notable, one can only imagine the importance of this week to the greater Howard community.

In 2020, Howard had its first fully virtual homecoming due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, two years later, students are finally returning to in-person festivities. One of the most exciting parts of homecoming is the return back to campus for many alumni, which includes visiting their alma mater. To understand just how influential this week is, one must examine the relationships within the greater Howard community, especially the vendors that serve our students, staff, and faculty year-round. 

The week of Howard Homecoming involves much more than just the students and alumni but extends to the businesses and restaurants near campus that are frequented by the Howard community. A few staples may come to mind, like HoChi (Howard China) or Sankofa Books. Most Howard students can recall an experience walking along Georgia Avenue with friends in between classes. 

“Nostalgia draws people back,” says Yonathan Mengistu, manager at Sankofa Books and Cafe.

It is important to note that several of the businesses along Georgia Ave are black-owned and operated. With significant Civil War history, the avenue was one of the main black cultural avenues in the Northwest, fueled in part by Howard students. For almost 20 years, the D.C. Caribbean Carnival parade took place on Georgia Avenue N.W., connecting cultures across the diaspora. There was also Georgia Avenue Day, another District tradition that showcased vendors. To this day there are still open street events occurring all along this street on a regular basis.

The benefits of homecoming week on Georgia Avenue vendors are what you would expect – increased traffic. Sales are a given at this time of year, with many businesses preparing homecoming-specific specials, events, and marketing. “[During Homecoming] it’s extra cooking, extra everything,” emphasized Janet Brown, a representative for Negril Jamaican Eatery.

However, the most common impact spoken about among the vendors along Georgia Ave is the sense of community that homecoming week brings to the storefronts lining this street. The history of Georgia Avenue points to the significance of this avenue as a cultural force for and by the community.  

Karin Sellers, owner of “Here’s the Scoop,” an ice cream parlor, has been on Georgia Avenue for nearly 30 years. “I’m looking forward to the comradery, to Georgia Avenue and Howard University looking like it should… to seeing life again,” says Sellers.

As Howard moves forward, following the disruption of long-standing traditions due to the pandemic, its students reflect on what homecoming means in the aftermath of the coronavirus.

Howard student, Dallas Hafeez, believes that even with homecoming being virtual in the past couple of years there are still instances of this community being fostered. “People will always find ways to connect, even without an official homecoming week,” said Hafeez.

“I’m so excited to return to The Yard this year. My homecoming experience was ruined because of covid, but public health and safety outweigh tradition. I believe people are ready to return to outdoor events with safety and social-distance measures implemented,” says Jaylin Ward, a recent Howard graduate.

The greater Howard community will always be a pillar of resilience and excellence, the impact of homecoming, virtual or otherwise, is just another example of that. 

“The full [homecoming] experience is amazing, it really is just unreal, you have to see it for yourself,” says Sellers.

Jamaica Kalika

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