Beyonce's latest documentary showcases the iconic artist's love for black culture, black people and black excellence, and woven in between these odes are flashes of appreciation for HBCUs.
HBCU advocates are loving it, spurring a trending Twitter game of "what if Beyonce' had attended an HBCU?"
She didn't. And while it may feel good to have Queen Bey pay homage to our culture, the real question is if and when the HBCU community will leverage it to pay dividends for the culture through enrollment, philanthropy and policy support?
Here are three ways that our schools may be able to take advantage of the homecoming moment.
1. Mirror Beyonce's Intentionality in Storytelling - 'Homecoming' takes viewers behind the scenes of how a legendary performance at Coachella came into being, and how involved HBCU students and alumni were involved with its creation. The next step is for HBCUs to match her storytelling with sub-narratives - why were these students and alumni chosen? What are their stories? Why should we care about them more than knowing they are people who love HBCUs? If the goal is to make more people like them, you have to show prospective students how much like them these students and alumni truly are.
2. Don't Give Beyonce' Too Much Credit - Beyonce' grew up with HBCU culture in her blood and atmosphere, and didn't have to stretch very far to find HBCU halftime show talent that would suit her Coachella ambitions. This talent helped Beyonce' tell a story through performance, but who tells the story of how that student and graduate talent became great enough to make Beyonce' even greater? HBCUs should be branding the rigor and production of their academic departments, which produce the entrepreneurs, performers, industrialists and artisans who helped to shape Beyonce's identity and continue to inspire her in her work today.
3. HBCU Faculty Must Follow Up - Black colleges need more data on the power we wield in the world. This is a moment to showcase statistics on how marching band participation yields a higher graduation rate than which is normal among most non-band affiliated students. This is a time to survey high school seniors who watch the documentary to gauge if the film makes them more or less likely to consider an HBCU for the next step of their academic careers. This is when black students from non-HBCUs should be surveyed to see if this documentary, or other pop cultural HBCU placements, contribute to the percentages of students who would choose an HBCU if they had to do it again?
The support HBCUs are able to gather from Beyonce's influence is not a testament to her love for them, just like a lack of support should not be an indictment of any perceived deficit in her attention to black colleges. She is building a brand as an entertainer, activist, political agent and cultural influencer based upon the struggles of marginalized people and their communities; whether they be black, gay, hurricane ravaged, brutalized by police or harmed by strife in relationships.
Beyonce' deserves credit for being able to hit the right chords, display the right symbols and to speak in the language of the oppressed in order for us to feel more than marginalized. We appreciate her for making us feel more useful, stronger and recognized. Now is the time to take cues from her branding strategy to build up the institutions which inspired this film.