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H.B.C.U. Returns home are canceled, but students and alumni will still feast

Enrollment in historically black colleges and universities is more than late night study sessions – it’s a balancing act between academics and discovering cheer and learning to be. It is routine to walk the same grassy quadrant as the ancestors who believed education was a weapon, while planning to let off steam.

Upon returning home, the uniqueness of the Black College experience is on display for everyone.

“Homecoming is a way of life,” said Michiel Perry, the creator of Black Southern Belle, a website focusing on black American women in the South, and a graduate of Howard University. (Ms. Perry̵

7;s site featured a tailgater at Magic City Classic – the nation’s largest H.B.C.U. game between Alabama A&M and Alabama State – smoking a bacon-wrapped alligator clutching a whole pineapple in its mouth.)

The University of Mississippi tree-lined tailgating area – where you’ll find monogrammed beer koozies, trays of pimento cheese and elaborate centerpieces – and luxury tailgating facilities with five-digit price tags, such as the tailgate station near the ‘University of Georgia in Athens are radically different from HBCU pre-game parties in the Deep South.

For students, homecoming is cheering on the brass section during the Battle of the Bands halftime show and partaking in their first sips of bourbon.

“Brown liquor lingered in the air,” said Shameeka Ayers, a health care financial manager and entrepreneur in Atlanta who attended Florida A&M in the mid-1990s. “It was the moss from my homecoming from Florida A&M University.” Reminiscent of the traditional fish fries that happen among the parked R.V.s from Georgia and Florida. It was easy to find Caribbean-influenced smoked chicken near Bragg Memorial Stadium.

It’s the people who separate a low-stakes brunch from a large engagement.

“We started Brunch and Bubbly eight years ago to celebrate Howard’s homecoming,” Ms. Dawson said. “As we got older, we wanted something relaxed that would allow us to nourish ourselves and have fun.” That first event had 75 attendees. Last year, Ms. Dawson and her business partner Nikki Hendricks hosted 600 people at a Washington, DC restaurant.

Across the country, coronavirus meal restrictions in restaurants have held back the taking of photos of eggs and steak, shrimp and semolina, chicken and waffles.

The latter dish, popular in home brunches, has deep roots in African American culinary history. Many food scholars argue otherwise, but chicken and waffles originate from southern plantations: African slaves cook and toast rice batter over an open hearth, using a waffle iron. In the 1930s, a Harlem supper club, Wells’ Restaurant, helped popularize the sweet and savory combination.

“The chicken needs to be fried well and the waffles need to be hot,” Ms. Dawson said.

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