At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with the endless social injustice issues of Black Americans I constantly wondered when it would abate. When would it cease and become life again. Education has always been something denied to Blacks. Hence the founding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Harlem has always considered the center of black culture, excellence and creativity. My thought “Wow let’s bring together in solidarity a group with a similar narrative during a time of a social unrest”. This gathering could have something of a healing effect.
The challenge of putting together the gathering was enormous. We initially reached out through friends and social media connections; Facebook, LinkedIn, IG. The task of getting 100% HBCU representation in Harlem, NY was daunting, but we are talking about the home of the Harlem Renaissance Right? Eventually the HBCU Presidents joined the efforts to search their databases in the Northeast. It was grassroots love. We went on to ask the HBCU Alumni Associations “If the President of your University sees the epic photo without an alumni representative”. NO way! It was a time where the alumni from these historic institutions of higher education needed to be together.
We were under an unprecedented health pandemic, which caused us numerous cancellations and untimely postponements. The social climate was at the breaking point with daily protests reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The original date was October 20, 2020. No vaccine!! Ultimately 180 Alumni from 85+ HBCUs confirmed attendance and the weather cooperated for an epic occasion. The alumni representing each four year HBCU was scheduled to arrive at 11am on Saturday, September 25, 2021. The organizer’s phone started ringing at 9am with questions about directions via train, bus, car and exact location in Morningside Park.
The location of the photograph was critical to the narrative. Education was always an achievement held in high regard. Legislation, protest and boycott were inevitable Steps the in attainment of coveted degrees. The Grand Steps in Morningside Park are symbolic all of the concerns Blacks faced both past and present. The violent 1968 Gym Crow protest on the adjacent streets provided the perfect backdrop for this group to again convene on those Steps. The 1968 recollection stunned the alums.
2020 ended a pivotal period of self determination for Black America. For eight years we had Barack H. Obama in the White House. Enter the Trump era. Charlottesville, bans, actions, appointments, removals, closures, impeachment, pandemic, George Floyd, voter suppression and 1.6.2021. All amounted to a malaise within the black community…..We needed a moment of resolve and reflection on those Steps.
Remembrance We came in many Shades…Shackled on Ships to foreign Shores to the Steps.
*As we connect the threads, dots and thoughts….to OUR phenomenal project.
Stacey Frazier - Spelman College Class of 1999