Thirty years later, the love affair that began when I signed my FAMU Army ROTC scholarship Aug. 28, 1986, becoming an official FAMUAN, is stronger than ever.
What a joy to return to the highest of seven hills to celebrate homecoming in a very special way with my 1986 freshman classmates, my children and a King and Queen of Orange and Green Reunion!
We return to the Hill every year to be surrounded by the love that can only be found at Homecoming—a love so strong that it encourages and rejuvenates us until we are reunited again.
FAMU alumni love is, as my Beta Alpha Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Sorors would say, is “a very serious matter!” It is also forever.
I recently had the honor of interviewing 91-year-old alumnus Howard King prior to the 2016 FAMU Mobile Classic. King, a civil rights activist and author of the forthcoming book, “In Spite of the Odds,” has missed less than 10 homecomings since graduating in 1956.
As we talked, he conveyed a love for FAMU that I admittedly share, a disease for which my friends and I seek no cure.
The Aloft has become the unofficial headquarters for the class of ‘86. We’re almost 50 now, and have more interest in talking with true friends until late into the night instead of party hopping throughout Tallahassee.
Many of my classmates feel as I do – that homecoming equates to the love and support necessary to make it through the year in a very hard, increasingly cold world.
Homecoming became my happy countdown to retirement. My line sister Larmia Robbins would say, “Hold on, just 4 (3,2,1) more homecomings!”
Her encouragement, combined with periodic reconnections with my fabulous Rattler brothers and sisters at epic house parties, cruises to Jamaica or even taking over connected penthouse, reminded me from whence I’d come. Although I (thankfully) made it to retirement, my need for homecoming has not diminished.
This year was perfect to include the theme, “It’s A Different World.” The Cosby spin-off aired during our era from 1987-1993. While Denise Cosby fictitiously attended Hillman, my friends and I lived plot lines that thankfully took place before the explosion and permanence of the Internet.
While we were at FAMU, Miami Bass was king and Prince was, well, Prince. We continue to mourn his recent passing, because he was FAMUly. My Spring ’89 AKA line, Pearls of Opulence, used Prince’s “Batdance” to create an unforgettable step show, complete with Vickie Vale dresses and Soror Michelle Carter jamming as the red and white Joker.
My class was raised on Prince’s music. We knew “Why Doves Cry,” and were thrilled when he included the Marching 100 in his Superbowl XLI show. Their half-time rendition of “Purple Rain” was absolute perfection!
I attended FAMU from Paso Robles, California where I was introduced to a myriad of influences that changed my life. Thought-leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Maya Angelou reshaped my perspective.
Thirty years later, my peers continue to do the same, in positions ranging from teachers to CEO’s, sprinkled with everything from regional pharmaceutical managers, lawyers and senior military officers.
Although their positions are impressive, we don’t care about the titles. Instead, when we are together, there are no “big I’s or little U’s,” only FAMUly, making significant contributions within our respective communities. Many of us take the time to mentor today’s youth, because we know they are tomorrow’s leaders.
I am proud of my new FAMU mentees, including the kings and queens of orange and green met at the reunion, especially King Keenan Williams and Queens Ijay Ogala and Marquavia Smith (2015-2016). They welcomed “Spirit of FAMU” title holders all the way back to 1982, to include my girl, Mrs. 10-for-10 CeckaTrueblood. Our Freshman ‘86- ‘87 Centennial class was the first one recruited by President Frederick Humphries, who served from 1985-2001. I still remember hearing Humphries speak for the first time at our freshman convocation in Gaither Gymnasium. Humphries said, “Everywhere else you’ve had to prove yourselves, I already know you’re good … now go do it!”
Due to his encouragement, I earned a 3.8 GPA my first semester. That GPA afforded me entry into Presidential Scholars, White and Gold Honors Society, and even made me a founding member of FAMU’s chapter of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society!
At FAMU I finally knew what it was to be the majority, in more ways than one. Most importantly, I was with other like-minded students who had dreams, goals and aspirations like mine. I made it through FAMU due to my mentors and peers. Together, my class created story lines of survival and determination that “Hillman” could have never handled. Despite life’s storms, Humphries encouraged us to “Strike, and Strike, and STRIKE AGAIN!” We did, and do.
Looking back, I made it through FAMU years ago due to the love and support that defines FAMU. Grandma Emmarhaye Mitchell, a “FAMC” grad, purchased the clothes and suits necessary to ensure I “fit in” and wasn’t intimidated in SBI Forum.
Dr. Addis Taylor encouraged me to obtain a Certificate of Labor Relations, leading to a full scholarship to University of Minnesota. Dr. Richard Wilson threatened to fail a classmate who stalked me! Col. Bernard Hendricks, director of student activities, believed in me enough to co-sign my first car — a $700, 1978 Pontiac Phoenix named “Orpheus.”
There are so many funny, happy memories from school days: playing Spades for hours with my buddy Marty; drilling for hours with FAMU Army ROTC and taking over the campus with my 86 amazing line sisters.
My last bit of advice, fellow Rattlers, is enjoy every minute on the “Hill!” FAMU grads hustle harder, and yes, we Bragg differently! Today’s friends will be your FAMUly for life, so cultivate today’s relationships and stay connected with the trusted friends who “knew you when.”
Make excellence your trademark, because it honors the sacrifices of your ancestors. Your legacy starts now. Enjoy the magic that is FAMU while you can, because out here, “It’s A Different World!”