Atlanta Hawks HBCU Night transforms State Farm Arena into blended homecoming

Atlanta Hawks fan A. Nicholas Brown looks on at the Hawks vs. Raptors game during HBCU Night, a celebration and recognition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, on Feb. 23, 2024, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

On Friday, The Atlanta Hawks hosted their sixth annual HBCU Night at State Farm Arena, coinciding with the team’s game against the Toronto Raptors.

“We come together to honor our nation’s and city’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities for their dedication to empowering the educational journeys of African American students,” said Camye Mackey, EVP and chief people, diversity, and inclusion officer of the Atlanta Hawks in a recent press release.

“HBCUs play a critical role in shaping the leadership capabilities of many of our employees, and continuously contribute to the advancement of our entire community.” 

Atlanta Hawks fans and HBCU Alumni gathered inside of State Farm Arena on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, to celebrate HBCU Night, the sixth annual celebration sponsored by the NBA team. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

As fans dressed in a pallet of blue, green, orange and purple took their seats, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical Choir took the court to kick off the special celebration with a rendition of the American and Canadian national anthems.

At halftime, Mahogany in Motion, the official dance team of Spelman College and Morehouse College, and the Essence Dance Line of Clark Atlanta University joined Hawks’ ATL Dancers.

In addition, The Hawk’s drumline, ATL BOOM, saw a special edition of various HBCU drum member alumni take the court under the guest leadership of Joshua Moore, assistant band director at Morehouse.

What began as a home game to honor HBCUs soon became an unofficial homecoming celebration for the multitude of students, alumni, and supporters in the stands.

“You see [HBCU culture] everywhere [in Atlanta] … people proudly wear their university paraphernalia, the sororities, fraternities … it’s nice to see.”

Traci Harris, alumni, University of Arkansas

Walking alongside a group of their homecoming and Student Government Association (SGA) colleagues, Ashley Davis and Melvin Pitts, 89th Miss Morris Brown and 4th Mister Morris Brown College, expressed their joy of seeing their peers show off their HBCU backgrounds.

“They make us feel proud!” said Davis. “It feels good to see all of the HBCUs represent where they’re from.”

“To be here tonight … it feels like home in here,” said Pitts. “This is the city of Civil Rights, this is the city of opportunity, and … to be honored by the Hawks and [State Farm], it’s just an honor.”

Miss and Mister Morris Brown College Ashley Davis and Melvin Pitts (center left) pose with 2023-2024 Morris Brown homecoming and SGA officials during HBCU Night at the Atlanta Hawks vs. Toronto Raptors game at State Farm Arena, Feb. 23, 2024, in Atlanta, Ga. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

The same sentiments were expressed by Bonita Houseworth, who showed off her HBCU-embedded dancing skills in a game contest that won her a signed De’Andre Hunter jersey.

Houseworth is a two-time HBCU graduate of Wilberforce University and Fort Valley State University and a member of Delta Sigma Theta. She compared the atmosphere to one of a “big family reunion.” She said the night was also essential in raising awareness among those in the crowd who may not be aware of HBCUs and their impact on the African American community.

Atlanta Hawks fan and two-time HBCU graduate Bonita Houseworth poses with a signed jersey won during a dance contest at the Hawks’ sponsored HBCU Night. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“No matter where you look… we have Spelman, Morehouse … Andrew Young, Martin Luther King [came from] HBCUs! It is a spirit of pride and professionalism that comes to me,” Houseworth said.

“HBCUs are the backbone of Black people’s history,” added Jason Ingram, a producer with media production team HBCU GO. “[In the past], we couldn’t go to Alabama, we couldn’t to LSU; we had to go to Southern, we had to Grambling. If people just take the time and see what an HBCU does … you literally learn how to become a man and a woman.”

Ingram also hopes that NBA teams will continue to recruit from HBCU teams and allow players the same opportunities as their PWI counterparts.

“All we’re looking for is a chance,” he said. “We’re just trying to show ya’ll that we are just as good as the Alabama player.”

“HBCUs are under represented when it comes to big corporations and big sports teams … I feel like the [Hawks] highlighting HBCUs brings more recognition, which then boasts enrollment, boasts awareness, and gets people talking.”

Angelica Thornton, senior, fashion major at Clark Atlanta University

While the Hawks players may have lost their game by two points, many considered the night a victory of showcasing HBCU pride and opening up future doors for representation by the team.

“When you start, you always wonder if it’s going to be successful — if they’re going to show up,” said Mackey in a Friday press conference. “And every single year they do.”