The Mecca in Me
Anybody who knows me for longer than 5 minutes knows I went to Howard University. This infatuation with my mighty alma mater is not new. 20 years ago, at the tender age of 11 or 12, anybody who knew me for longer than 5 minutes knew I wanted nothing more in this world than to go to Howard. 10 years ago, anyone who knew me longer than 5 minutes knew I was counting down the days until May 2008, when I would walk across that stage and receive my freedom papers.
Oh, a proud day it was when I limped (due to a swollen knee, though I was still wearing high heels for no reason other than I was a Howard Woman), to that stage in Burr Gymnasium for the COAS graduation. And, boy, did I party hard for 10 days straight leading up to those days (perhaps, this explains the swollen knee?). I couldn't wait to graduate from Howard University. Not that I was actually ready to leave that world. On the contrary, I wanted to stay cocooned in this land of melanin and mambo sauce. It was a haven. It was a launchpad. It was my Mecca.
Ta-Nehisi Coates describes Howard best in Beautiful Struggle and Between the World & Me, so I won't waste my keystrokes trying to do any better. Once, a colleague leaned over to me and said, "Is it really as he describes?" and all I could say was, "Better." I have two collages hanging in my office, and one of them is just pictures from Howard U past and present. Beneath those images is this quote from Between the World & Me, "I was admitted to Howard University, but formed and shaped by the Mecca." And, this is true. Howard University captured my attention but the Mecca has my heart, is my heart. The Mecca is in Me.
“The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body. The Mecca derives its power form the heritage of Howard University, which in Jim Crow days enjoyed a near-monopoly on black talent.” Coates, Between the World & Me
When I returned home after graduation, I was in the midst of figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with my life. Everything in my body screamed, "Move back to DC! Go back to Howard! Start all over again and this time really soak it up!" However, as we all know, that's not how time works. Time marched on and so did I. I started graduate school back in Los Angeles and started teaching a year later. And every step of the way, I'd reflect on my days at the Mecca, how the things I learned there informed my decisions, how the professors there modeled who I wanted to be (shout out to Dr. Gregory Carr!), and how the very existence of this magical place of concentrated blackness fortified me (Wakanda, anyone?).
Though English is my primary subject, I've taught Afro-American Studies as standalone courses and/or simply infused into regular rhetoric or lit classes. One of the greatest compliments a student ever gave me while teaching was, "Miss Bridgette really gave us the black college experience in her class!" Imagine that. One of a hand full of black faculty at an art college on the West Coast, making students feel like they'd stepped out of LaLaLand and into A Different World (perhaps this is what Tracy Turnblad felt when she declared, I wish every day was Negro Day! on the set of the fictional teen dance show during Hair Spray?). Yeah, I left Howard 10 years ago but the Mecca is still in me.
I'm newly fulltime at my current college and I find myself repping my set even harder than before. This winter found me exclusively in Howard crewnecks (shout out to Last Bison Standing), refusing to buy "grown-up" winter clothes. My students need only know me for 5 minutes before they know where I went to school (Sometimes I quiz them quickly, "What school did I go to?" and they respond, "Howard!" half-annoyed, half-amused). My Instagram (plug! plug!) is chockfull of Howard posts. I even penned a letter to the executive board of my dear old university, calling the current regime an embarrassment (insert gif of NeNe's dentures chomping down on "I said what I said") for their antics and scandals. Yep, it's still there in my heart and across my chest, the Mecca.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be descending upon the Hilltop once again for the greatest Homecoming in the land and my 10-year reunion. So, I’m feeling nostalgic. Stay tuned for more Howard stories!
bb, HU ‘08 . . . HOLLA!