There are few HBCU campus experiences which don’t include praise breaks.
But few HBCUs praise break like Florida A&M University, which like many HBCUs has incorporated gospel into its marching band performances, but has some of the most memorable faith-based entries in HBCU band archives.
There’s the memorable Atlanta Classic performance of ‘We Fall Down.’
And ‘Praise is What I Do.’
And then there’s the mascot holy dancing during ‘War Cry.’
Individually, they are timeless performances. Together, they are just one element of what makes FAMU a foundational institution in HBCU culture. When students and alumni talk about the ‘HBCU experience,’ this is one of the cultural elements that stirs stakeholders to the kind of loyalty and passion that outsiders struggle to fully understand.
It is more than a marching band playing gospel music; it’s that a school takes pride in playing gospel music for fans who take pride in hearing it. That music and those fans are infused within an educational and social culture that was created and is sustained in large part by religious affiliation, and individual and collective faith.
HBCUs and black churches have been good for each other for many years. The pastors and affluent worshipers who keep black churches thriving gained their wealth in large part through education and training offered at HBCUs. HBCU culture survives because its key stakeholders are believers. A.M.E., Baptist, Catholic and Episcopal church conferences support HBCUs with annual or biannual appropriations. Black churches nationwide raise millions in support of student scholarships, host college fairs, and conduct college tours – generations after founding many of our campuses in church basements and seminary training schools.
In a cruel twist, HBCU culture struggles for this exact same reason it survives; thousands of people work so hard for HBCUs, but far too many of the people who so dearly love these schools so frequently miscalculate an abundance of faith as a suitable replacement for investment, for questioning leadership, and for protection from political adversaries.
And some saints even criticize the black church for not being more present in the struggle and potential saving of the more financially vulnerable HBCU campuses.
The mingling of faith and grassroots advocacy is a topic worthy of discussion on all of our campuses, but HBCUs deserve credit for maintaining the sacred bond of education, vocation, and salvation. And that bond should spur more dialog between churches and HBCUs on subjects like construction partnerships, job training, audit support, economic development, and enrollment management.
If we can agree that the black church and the black college are the two single most viable entities controlled by black folks and serving black folks in this country, acknowledging the expression of their bond is a great way to begin the conversation on how our schools can be further helped and less harmed by the heaven-sent relationship.
A future of what stronger church-HBCU connections could yield for Black America? That’s something to praise break about.