Atlanta based HBCUs celebrate fellowship and foundation for first time since 2019

This week, Morehouse College, in collaboration with sister school Spelman College, celebrates its Homecoming week, a celebration that has existed within the college since the 1920s and the first to be celebrated since 2019. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Martin Luther King Jr. slept there, Samuel L. Jackson performed on stage there, Spike Lee created his first film there.

These three men have three major things in common: they are all innovators, they all are all globally renowned names and they all graduated from Morehouse College.

This week, Morehouse College honors alums such as King, Jackson and Lee, as well as a plethora of scholars, athletes, lawyers, activists and artists who have emerged from the historical institution through its annual SpelHouse homecoming celebration — the first of its kind since the end of nationally mandated COVID-19 regulations earlier this year.

A mural represneting Morehouse alums Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

Established by civil rights leader and scholar William Jefferson White in 1867, the Black men’s liberal arts college has grown to become one the oldest and most prominent educational institutions within Atlanta.

It is also known as one of the most recognizable historically Black colleges and universities nationwide, alongside neighboring sister school Spelman College and Washington-based Howard University.

Morehouse started its homecoming experience in the 1920s, and in collaboration with Spelman College, the celebration is one the most anticipated and populated annual events for both of the colleges, attracting alumnus and nonaffiliated Atlanta residents alike.

“The spirit of homecoming is a time to relax and be amongst the family that you have in Atlanta.”

Kyle S. Yeldell , Morehouse alum 06′, author of “The Soul of Omega: A History of Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. at Morehouse College”

“That’s the power and the magic of an HBCU,” said Henry M. Goodgame, ’84 alum and vice president for external relations and alumni engagement.” Homecoming is a sense of feeling, a sense of belonging, a sense that there is somewhere they can always return home for great friendship, fellowship, and camaraderie.”

The celebration is even more memorable because it is the first since 2019 to offer festivities on campus for alums to reunite and reemerge. For many graduates, this is a week that has been long awaited.

“Some people really have planned on this years in advance,” said Goodgame. “They planned their work and cases and everything around an opportunity to come back here and be reinspired.”

A monument and burial stone outside the historic Graves Hall dormitory at Morehouse College pays tribute to Benjamin E. Mays, a civil rights pioneer and the 6th President of Morehouse College, holding the honor from 1940-1967. (Kenny Murry/ WABE)

That’s not just to say that homecoming is an affair only for alums, however.

Both campuses created a variety of activities and events throughout the week to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience to benefit current students socially and professionally.

During the day, networking events offered in this year’s festivities include a panel discussion on media management featuring CAA Television Literary agent and Morehouse alum Brandon Lawrence and a panel discussion on creative design featuring Morehouse alums who have risen to success within their industry.

During the evening, musical performers such as Ne-Yo and 21 Savage were scheduled for performances designated exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman students. A noteworthy surprise came Wednesday night, when concertgoers were treated to a surprise performance from rapper Drake, who joined 21 Savage onstage to an excited crowd.

“It’s one thing to talk about what we say — it’s another thing to read about what we’ve done. It’s nothing like coming to actually experience it.”

Henry Goodgame, vice president for external relations and alumni engagement, Morehouse College

In addition to those performances, step shows and sponsored events from a variety of Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities.

“(Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi) had a party called Pretty Nasty, we did that in collaboration with The Pi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and that was always the biggest party every year during Homecoming; it was always the Thursday before Homecoming, and it’s an event that has stood for 20 years, said Kyle S. Yeldell, 06′ alumni, former editor in chief of the Maroon Tiger newspaper and the author of “The Soul of Omega: A History of Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. at Morehouse College.” “It was all pretty fun. There were a lot of events for students and fraternities to be apart of.”

These festivities lead up to the main event, The SpelHouse tailgate, held outside of B. T. Harvey Stadium. Hundreds of vendors, students and alum will set up tents on Saturday morning to socialize, grill and cheer on the Morehouse Maroon Tigers as they take on Benedict College.

It is a tradition for SpelHouse students, faculty and alums to tailgate outside of Morehouse’s B.T. Harvey Stadium to celebrate for fun and fellowship during the school’s annual Saturday morning homecoming game. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“The spirit of homecoming is a time to relax and be amongst the family that you have in Atlanta. I think of the tailgate as the best event because you have everything mixed into one,” said Yeldell.

An additional benefit to the tailgate is that it brings forth many potential students for Morehouse and Spelman, both children of alums and local high schoolers who use the event as a way to make a connection with the colleges for the first time.”

“This and commencement are two of the biggest opportunities to attract eyes to what we do,” said Goodgame. “It’s one thing to talk about what we say — it’s another thing to read about what we’ve done. It’s nothing like coming to actually experience it.”

For Goodgame and Yeldell, Homecoming is not only an opportunity to celebrate past graduates but also acknowledge the potential “Morehouse men” who will continue on the college’s reputation of leadership and academic excellence.

A mural on Morehouse campus celebrates Black leaders and innovators who have had an impact on American history. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“A Morehouse man is a thinker, a doer, well-read, well-traveled, well dressed and he is an inspiration to others,” said Goodgame. “Many Morehouse men come from a variety of backgrounds, but it’s not necessarily where you come from; it’s where you are going.”

“It is one of the first places where I saw overt positive peer pressure. It wasn’t about how you dressed or popularity, but what scholarships you were applying to, holding you accountable for your work”, said Yeldell. “It was about people not just wanting to succeed but making sure that they see you succeed as well. That incubator, I don’t know how to put that in words. Coming from that environment, it changes you forever.”

Although plans for next year’s events have not yet been finalized, attendance is one thing that the schools will not have to worry too much about.

“Who wouldn’t want to come back to a place that meant so much to so many for so long,” said Goodgame.