FAMU Praise Breaking Reveals the Best of What HBCUs Have Been, and Could Be

There are few HBCU campus experiences which don’t include praise breaks.

From chapel…

…to commencement.

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.

3 comments
  1. ” And some saints even criticize the Black church for not being present more present in the struggle and potential saving more of the more financially vulnerable HBCU campuses”

    Excellent observation.

    Everyday,I pass by several Black megachurches and think about how many HBCUs was created from these institutions. Those people didn’t have as much money as these megapastors but they were determined to educate their own.

    Forward wind to the present…they have the millions yet but you don’t hear about them rebuilding communities and as mentioned contribute more to HBCUs. When Morris Brown shut down, I didn’t hear too many pastor come together and say ” let’s get together and save this college “. You will hear some of asking church members donating money for their personal planes but not for the well being of students.

    Clark Atlanta University recently had a problem with student housing.As I was looking at the frustrations on the students faces,a part of me wondered ,couldn’t the church had got involved with helping these students find housing.Mind you, the school could have been more professional with the business aspects of it.Still,the pastors should have contributed their time in helping these students out.

  2. No church, not even megachurches can “save” HBCUs and it’s unrealistic to think that way. The black church is often called upon for financial help, from local colleges and other local, community organizations, but who’s helping the church? All churches rely greatly on the tithes/offering of its members, but only 10% of most congregations give consistently. Yes, the pews look full, but the people in the pews don’t give today in the way past generations did. Churches may be exempt from taxes, but they are not exempt from mortgages, utility bills, employee salaries, insurance, ministry expenses, etc. Churches also face the same challenges that HBCUs face: retention. Gone are the days where a good “word” or quality education were simply enough. Our people want to be entertained today. It’s all about the gloss. Churches are challenged to gain new members while retaining existing members. HBCUs are challenged to raise new student registration and keep current students through graduation. Church members or HBCUs students can transfer to “better, more gloss” at anytime. Lack of church support is not the issue. Lack of support from our people is the problem. All of the institutions black people have held dear, churches, HBCUs, civic organizations like the NAACP are all struggling to a degree for lack of support from us. We must go back to investing in ourselves and future generations. We must make better business decisions. All of us can contribute finances or time. Retail data states that black people spend more than any other race, yet our institutions are dying. That doesn’t make any sense. Also, if a HBCU president or board are not working, don’t let people remain in those positions, while the problems get bigger. That doesn’t make sense either. We also have many celebrities at or over the one billion mark who can help, but do not. We have entertainment conglomerates (BET, TV One, Radio One, Essence, etc )that can help, but do not. Look at all of the awards shows that are produced and broadcast each year by these companies. Not needed! We’ve got to do better. We must do better. All of us.

  3. FAMU Marching 100 has always been a great band. They have weathered the hazing issues and are back performing at a top level. So yes FAMU along with dozens of other HBCU bands are exactly what HBCU excellence is all about

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