College homecomings provide alumni with opportunities to reconnect and engage with current students, faculty, staff and the campus community.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations will take on a new form this year.
To maintain the community collaboration aspect of homecoming, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) will host a virtual concert and fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 25 putting the focus directly on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“We are looking forward to raising awareness about HBCUs but we hope that the fundraiser will support the important work that we do in providing career readiness and opportunities to students who attend our schools,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of TMCF.
#RISE HC2K20 boasts an impressive roster of celebrities who will perform and make appearances. They include Ne-Yo, Shaquille O’Neal, 2 Chainz, T.I., Big K.R.I.T., India Arie, Lucky Day, Lil-Baby, T-Pain, Leon Bridges, Mo’Nique and Rotimi.
There will also be DJ sets from various HBCUs and a Unity Step Performance. Actor and TMCF national ambassador Terrence ‘J’ Jenkins and actress Brandee Evans are hosting the event, which will be broadcasted on HBCU Nation and AspireTV and streamed on TMCF’s YouTube channel.
“We’ve done it all, in order to just get that whole homegrown spirit for that homecoming feel,” said Khadija S. Campbell, senior events manager at TMCF.
With the purchase of a VIP ticket, participants can also gain access to songwriter, singer and record producer Anthony Hamilton’s pre-show and a private Moet Hennessy mixology event.
HBCU alumni and students are encouraged to engage with the event online and show off their school pride. TMCF also launched the Musical Cypher competition, where students can submit videos of themselves freestyling over the “Come Home” beat produced by rapper David Banner.
“Our team has really taken the helm, pretty much making sure that we are reaching the vast majority of HBCU alumni and students and making sure that they are able to feel part of the experience,” said Campbell.
Williams emphasized that HBCUs have played an integral role in U.S. history dating back to the 1800s and that it is important to celebrate these schools.
“Our students and our member-schools have a storied history,” he added. “Our schools meet our students where they are and they challenge them to rise to the occasion.”
This national fundraising event comes at a time when HBCUs have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Almost 72% of HBCU students are Pell Grant eligible, with their families earning less than $20,000 per year, and 97% qualify for some form of financial aid. Over 52% of HBCU students are first-generation college students, according to Williams.
In partnership with JPMorgan Chase and others, TMCF established an emergency COVID-19 relief fund back in March to help cover students’ financial burdens relating to the areas of technology, housing, food and transportation.
“It really is, as they say, the miner’s canary,” said Tamaria K. Perry, senior director of development at TMCF. “When the rest of the world gets the cold, Black and Brown communities get the flu. So, we are seeing what’s happening with the pandemic and we are working very hard to step in and serve the needs of our students and campuses so that they continue to engage in their education and work towards their goals.”
The pivot to online learning also created challenges due to the many students lacking access to Wi-Fi and other technology necessary to complete assignments. One of TMCF’s member schools recently reported that 15% of its student body did not have access to the internet at home, Williams said.
“Stress, coupled with a lack of financial resources and/or homelessness prompted renewed conversations about the need for mental health support to help our students navigate these turbulent times,” he added.
Corporate titans like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Coca-Cola Company, Cross Colours, Flowers Foods, Booz Allen Hamilton, Molson Coors, WW and Walton Family Foundation are all supporting this virtual fundraiser, which replaces the organization’s annual awards gala.
Perry said that financial donations will support HBCU programs, student scholarships, policy development and other TMCF operational needs.
“There are people who did not know that we existed before,” said Perry. “But now, not only because of this event, but these broader conversations, they are realizing that our schools are here, that they are providing life-changing opportunities for our students and really making a difference in the community.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at email@example.com.