By Naomi Shelton
This article was first published at http://www.k12dc.education
The think pieces are in and folks are falling over themselves about King Bey’s #BeyChella performance. Late Saturday night (stupid early Sunday morning for those of us on the East Coast), Beyoncé took to the stage at Coachella Music Festival and gave us what I will refer to as her blackest performance to date, an HBCU homecoming halftime show on steroids - a midwest Classic game with two Southern football teams serving as the bookends to the real entertainment. Beyoncé gave us peak blackness that we’ve only seen come to life a handful of times both on the small and large screen with A Different World and School Daze(for the throwback) and Drumline (if you’re new school).
But all good things come with backlash… before I get into that, let’s continue to revel in Bey’s GOOD vibes.
During a yearlong raincheck, King Bey took her double the pleasure, double the fun artistic Mama juices to dream up the most glorious headline experience that Coachella has ever seen. Beyonce Giselle ‘My Daddy Attended Fisk University’ Knowles-Carter knew that if she were going step on stage in front of a majority privileged white gaze, she was gonna be black and pretty as ever. Giving us homecoming Queen meets J Sette’s finest, Bey and the more than 100 performers and musicians gave us a show that will not soon be forgotten. Y’all can go and read about it, so I won’t go into detail, just know my mother is still mad at me for not waking her up to allow her to bask in the gloriousness of the moment in real time.
However, this love fest of one of the most popular facets of HBCU culture wasn’t the end all be all for Mrs. Carter. The BeyGOOD initiative announced the HBCU Homecoming Scholarship, a gift of $100,000 to four UNCF member institutions (a lucky and academically prepared student from Tuskegee University, Bethune-Cookman University, Xavier University of Louisiana and Wilberforce University will receive a $25,000 scholarship) was announced less than 48 hours later. This second iteration of gifts follows the 2017 Formation Scholarship in honor of the one year anniversary of the drop of her Lemonade album.
Your cousins can’t let us be great without a little contrarian love.
AfAm Ivory tower folks have complained about the performance (eyeroll), essentially saying it trivializes the totality of the HBCU experience. To that I say: Can We Live? Can we enjoy a moment where someone who isn’t required to love on our 101 tells her own mama: these white people will make it and Google will help them? Others have complained that the financial gift Beyoncé will bestow upon four students is a drop in the bucket. To that I say: DID Y’ALL ASK DR. DRE WHY HE DIDN’T GIVE HIS COINS TO UNCF OR AN HBCU?
As a graduate of Tougaloo College, a small but mighty private, football team-less, four-year institution in the heart of Mississippi, I know what it means to lean into another school’s light (shout out to Jackson State University, the Sonic Boom of the South, The Prancing J Settes and of course the football program that made it all possible – the JSU Tigers), allowing the cultural experience of their fall weekend routine spill over into my studious, academic focused enclave. Both of these institutions (and four others) offer Mississippi much more than art and entertainment, and are economic drivers for the Magnolia State, that goes without saying. But to treat an hour and forty-minute performance as the sole amplifier of the perception of entertainment being all HBCU’s have to offer is laughable. By virtue of my student loans and day job, I am forever a member of the larger academia focused HBCU community and culture, which includes athletics and entertainment. Like “my people, my people,” HBCUs are not monolithic.
What I’ve learned in my time with my nearly 75-year-old organization (and as my girl Dr. Crystal de Gregory recently said) is we must bask in the sunlight when it shines on us. This time last year, my colleagues and I were still fielding questions about a certain meeting and photo op in a house that is often referred to by its color. If this year, Beyoncé wants to shift the narrative, show our schools some love, share some financial resources and school white folks on all tied up in the gloriousness of our halftime shows, guess what? I am not mad, and you shouldn’t be either.
And of course, if you found yourself inspired by Mrs. Knowles-Carter and want to show a little scholarship love on your own, feel free to visit www.uncf.org/invest and put your money to work to make more HBCU halftime shows possible.