Harvard’s black students using game against Howard to celebrate culture First-time football meeting gives students opportunity to highlight diverse manifestations of blackness

The first football game between Harvard and Howard University has brought a new dimension to an age-old debate over “the real HU.” But for some black students at Harvard, the goal is bigger than bragging rights.

These students hope the game will help them build solidarity with Howard and strengthen the support network available to black students at Harvard.

When the leaders of Harvard’s Black Students Association heard about the game, they saw an opportunity for social engagement. Aba Sam and Kendall Laws, president and vice president of the association, respectively, started planning what is now being billed as the inaugural Black Ivy Homecoming.

This is a tip of the hat to the Black Ivy League, an informal reference to top-rated historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Howard, Hampton and Spelman. It’s also an acknowledgment that Harvard and Howard are top-tier institutions among the Ivy League and HBCUs, respectively; Harvard’s Business School accepts more students from Howard than any other HBCU, and many black students at both schools are working to create and maintain communities that celebrate diverse manifestations of blackness.

“We wanted to make it about more than just the game,” said Sam, a junior neuroscience major from Southbury, Connecticut.

In conjunction with Harvard’s Black Graduate Student Alliance (HBGSA) and the Howard University Student Association (HUSA), Sam and Laws organized a day and a half of social and professional events. Although administrators at both schools had to approve the plan, all activities are being led and funded by student leaders.

“We sold out of tickets to the event in two hours,”said HUSA president Taylor Ellison. As a result, about 55 Howard students, grad and undergrad, will make the trip from Georgia Avenue to Cambridge, Massachusetts. They can participate in a career panel, a talent show pitting Howard against Harvard, a pregame breakfast and a tailgate. And, of course, parties.

“We’re definitely not a big, big football school, but we do come out for certain games, like our Harvard-Yale game. We have tailgate culture. For this game, we think people will fill up the stands,” said Laws, a junior economics major from Atlanta.

Perhaps even more impressive is the housing plan. Travelers from Howard will be hosted by Harvard students the day before the game. This custom is traditionally only bestowed upon Yale students when their school plays Harvard. (Yale’s rivalry with Harvard is as historic and fun as Hampton’s is with Howard.)

“This event is going to be legendary,” said Ellison. She, Laws and Sam hope Black Ivy Homecoming becomes an annual event between Harvard and Howard.

Harvard defensive back Bennett Bay in action against San Diego on Sept. 15, 2018, at Harvard Stadium in Boston. The Crimson take on Howard this weekend.

(Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to Harvard doctoral student Tauheedah Baker-Jones, 41, more tailgate tickets were sold for this game than for ones against Yale. This is a big deal because the rivalry between Yale and Harvard is as significant as the one between Howard and Hampton. Baker-Jones is part of HBGSA as well as a Howard alum. She was happy to promote the event to graduate students and alumni from both schools. She’s enjoyed her experiences at both institutions.

“I can’t put a price on Howard,” said Baker-Jones, who completed her undergraduate degree at UCLA. “It prepared me for UCLA, for the social challenges I would face there.”

When she decided to go to graduate school, part of what attracted her to Harvard was the number of black faculty members in the Graduate School of Education. When she enrolled, she said, seven black female deans had just been hired, and she recalls proudly tweeting, “#Mydeanisblack.”

Just over 9% of Harvard’s graduate student population is black, and the percentage of black undergrads is slightly less than that. More black students are admitted than enroll at the Ivy League school.

Harvard’s name is impressive, but black students are also looking at other factors such as programs offered, financial aid packages, how comfortable they feel on campus, and location. As it competes with premier schools such as MIT, Stanford, Duke and Howard for high-performing black students, the school has also been working to make space for and embrace diverse expressions of black culture. There are several black organizations on campus, such as the Association of Black Harvard Women, the Caribbean Club, and the Black Community and Student Theater (BlackC.A.S.T.). Other groups embrace mixed-race students, black LGBTQ members and black engineers.

Technically, there are no sororities or fraternities on campus, but Baker said the members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity will be helping with the tailgate. In 2017, members of single-gender social clubs were banned from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations, becoming varsity captains, or receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships. A plan to phase out such social clubs by 2022 was also implemented that year. However citywide chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc currently accept members from Harvard, MIT and other Boston area schools.

“The black community is small, close and tight-knit across social and gender lines,” said government and economics major Meshaal Bannerman, vice president of Harvard Black Men’s Forum. He said the group is a preprofessional organization geared toward masculine-identifying black men. While it’s important to Bannerman that Harvard’s black community be supportive of each other, he added, “The academic rigor at Harvard can be challenging, so it’s important to have a space for people who support you, not just look like you.”

Part of what influenced Sergine Cindy Zeufack and Antonia Scott to commit to Harvard was the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College.

“We celebrate black excellence. We’ve created a space for black people at Harvard and the surrounding community to find a refuge in a world that can be hard to be in. It’s open to any black person looking for community, but anyone can join.” — Sergine Cindy Zeufack on Kuumba, Harvard’s oldest existing black organization on campus

“I wanted to join a singing group of some sort with a group of people. It [Kuumba] celebrates black art, creativity, spirituality. I enjoyed the people and community,” said Zeufack, a senior human developmental and regenerative biology major from Rockville, Maryland. She’s also first-generation Cameroonian American.

Scott added, “Kuumba supports blackness in all of its forms. And there are no auditions; anyone can join.” The Cranston, Rhode Island, native is a senior majoring in African American studies and minoring in molecular and cellular biology.

Kuumba is Harvard’s oldest existing black organization on campus. It’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Zeufack said it’s as close as Harvard gets to an HBCU.

“We celebrate black excellence,” she said. “We’ve created a space for black people at Harvard and the surrounding community to find a refuge in a world that can be hard to be in. It’s open to any black person looking for community, but anyone can join.”

“Creating safe spaces” is a phrase several black student leaders used to describe the mission of their organizations. In part, this is because in 2019, some people still question whether black students are smart enough to be there.

Zeufack said she’d had a few encounters with strangers who asked her where she went to school. When she replied that she’s at Harvard, they seemed to not believe her. One person even asked if she was on the track team.

“Nope,” she recalled. “I guess I’m just smart.”

She’s not knocking any athletes. Black students make up just under 9% of Harvard’s athletic population, while 16% are white and Hispanics and Asians each constitute 4%. Zeufack just wonders why her admittance is questioned.

“If there are so many people who question if you deserve to be there, you start to wonder about it too,” she said. And she’s not the only one.

Experiences like these led to the #ItooamHarvard photo campaign and play in 2014. Led by black and Japanese student Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, 40 black students, including those with multiracial backgrounds, shared their experiences with institutional racism and feelings of alienation on campus. Similar campaigns were launched at Georgetown, UCLA and the University of Michigan that year. The campaign at Harvard is officially over, but black students still talk about it and its impact.

“That campaign was about black students feeling unwanted and disrespected,” said Bannerman. “But it’s twofold. We black students are working to fix the community on the inside so the outside noise doesn’t hurt as much.”

For some black students, the work to make black students feel comfortable on Harvard’s campus is paying off.

Police were called on three black female students at Harvard; Baker-Jones was one of them. She said a woman in her off-campus apartment called the police on Sept. 8 because Baker-Jones’ music had too much bass and she couldn’t focus. The ordeal ended peacefully, and the two women ended up exchanging contact information. The neighbor felt bad and agreed to contact Baker-Jones if the situation happened again.

“I’ve never not felt welcome at Harvard,” said Baker-Jones. “Campus has done a lot to make us feel supported, but now we have to work on how we are treated outside the community.”

Since then, the black students association has established a black graduation ceremony that honors the accomplishments and culture of black graduates. Additionally, Harvard’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, appointed its first black editor to lead the newspaper. Kristine Guillaume is Haitian and Chinese.

And then, of course, there’s Harvard’s football team. Bennett Bay is a junior government major from Atlanta. He’s a member of the black students association and a defensive back who plans to play in the game against Howard.

“The black community definitely makes an effort to make the freshmen feel welcome,” he said after practice. “The biggest shock for me was the weather. I was not used to six months of snow.”

Besides the black students association, Bay has found his community on the football team. At the end of the day, that’s the goal of each black student organization: to help black students find spaces and groups where they feel accepted and respected.

“I love the culture of the team. It’s bigger than me,” he said. He’s excited about the game and for the opportunity to be on the first Harvard football team to play against an HBCU.

Waffle House shooting victim remembered as a leader on the court and in class DeEbony Groves, 21, a Delta, was her high school basketball team’s defensive stopper

Faculty members at Nashville, Tennessee’s Gallatin High School remember DeEbony Groves as an ideal student-athlete: smart, hardworking, team-oriented and up for almost any challenge.

In the classroom, Groves took advanced placement and honors classes that earned her college credits even before she enrolled at Nashville’s Belmont University in 2014. On the basketball court, Groves was the Lady Wave’s stopper for Gallatin and always drew the opponent’s top player, whether she ran the point or played in the post.

“She was a leader who put others first,” read a statement from several Gallatin staffers and released by school principal Ron Becker.

Groves, 21, was among the four people killed by a gunman wielding an assault rifle early Sunday at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee, a Nashville suburb. The others killed in the attack were identified as 29-year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin, a cook at the restaurant, as well as two other patrons, 20-year-old Joe R. Perez and 23-year-old Akilah DaSilva. Two other people were wounded in the gunfire.

Groves “was a brilliant young lady, very, very intelligent and a very hard worker,” former Gallatin coach Kim Kendrick told The Tennessean newspaper. “She was a very likable young lady. She was one of three seniors on her team, and she was a great role model for the other players because of her hard work and dedication to her studies and to her school.”

Groves did not hoop in college, but she otherwise continued her success. A social work major and member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, she was on track to graduate in May.

After an intensive manhunt, police arrested Travis Reinking, 29, who has a history of bizarre behavior, and charged him with criminal homicide on Monday. Reinking, who is originally from central Illinois, lived in an apartment not far from the Waffle House, a popular gathering place for early morning breakfast after a late night of fun.

Police have offered no information about a possible motive.

Groves’ murder stunned Belmont University, a Christian university where Monday chapel was transformed into a prayer session for Groves’ family and friends. A second service was to be held Monday evening at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Antioch, just outside Nashville, Belmont officials said.

“I am shocked and devastated by how such senseless violence has taken the life of this young woman, an individual full of immense potential,” Belmont president Bob Fisher said in a statement.

On social media, people who knew Groves expressed both anger and sadness as they posted tributes to her.

Seven members of the Deltas, three of them with their mouths taped shut, posted a photograph of themselves surrounding a red banner. It read: “Gun Control #DeEbony Groves Rest in Peace Soror.”

Friends also posted numerous pictures of Groves. In her high school graduation portrait, she is smiling broadly into the camera in her black dress and white pearls. And in later shots taken during her college years, Groves was made up and glamorous.

Antoinette Lee, a member of the Nashville Metropolitan Council, went to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to visit one of Groves’ sorority sisters, Sharita Henderson, who was among those injured in the rampage. She was reported to be in critical but stable condition on Monday.

“I met some of the sorority sisters who knew both of them,” Lee said in an interview. “There were about six or seven there at the hospital. All I could do was thank them for being supportive.”

The rampage began when the assailant got out of a pickup truck, naked except for a green jacket, and opened fire in the restaurant’s parking lot, killing two people. He then entered the crowded restaurant and killed two more people before his rifle was wrestled away by James Shaw, a 29-year-old AT&T technician and former Tennessee State University student. Disarmed, the assailant fled the scene.

Nashville police said Reinking was arrested last summer on the grounds of the White House and charged with unlawful entry after breaching a security barrier. Afterward, officials seized his four guns, including the AR-15 assault weapon used in the Waffle House killings. The guns were later given to Reinking’s father, who has acknowledged giving them back to his son, police said. In an earlier encounter with police, Reinking complained of being stalked by the singer Taylor Swift. A local police department in Illinois said that he once showed up at a pool in a pink dress before going to swim in his underwear and daring lifeguards to fight him, according to published reports.

The Waffle House shooting prompted Chris Grady, who identifies himself on Twitter as a member of March for Our Lives, to vent about the need for better gun control. “4 people murdered in cold blood at Waffle House,” he wrote. “We live in a country where going to get waffles can end with you staring down the barrel of a gun. This is not normal. We cannot accept the status quo. This is why we keep fighting, because this keeps happening.”