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‘I Went to a PWI, So My Experiences Now as an Adult, I See the Value’: Deion Sanders and Other Celebs Speak Out About the Benefits of HBCUs During Inaugural Big Homecoming Festival at Clark Atlanta University

Historically Black Colleges and universities are seeing a surge in enrollment, and The Big Homecoming kickstarting at Atlanta’s Clark University is the beginning of a year-long push to spotlight Black excellence.

“Uplift our children and build a better future for everyone. Make sure you go to an HBCU and enjoy the rest of the Big Homecoming,” said KJ Smith, actress and FAMU graduate before an auditorium of students and parents interested in HBCUs.

Actress KJ Smith, known for popular roles on shows like Tyler Perry’s “Sistas,” is also a graduate of Florida A&M University. She, alongside well-known radio and television personality Big Tigger and former NFL and MLB player and current head coach of Jackson State University Deion Sanders, all highlighted the value of HBCUs at the kickoff of “The Big Homecoming” festival at Clark Atlanta University on June 17.

“Use what God gave you, go to source, because that is going to give you the direction, the passion, the enthusiasm the success that you’re looking for,” Smith said.

The festival, organized by Grammy Award-winning record entertainment executive Amir Windom and music executive Maurice Slade, is a two-day event designed to capture the energy and creativity of HBCU homecoming celebrations, but during the first day of events, guest speakers dropped knowledge onto students and parents in attendance.

Deion Sanders pointed out Tamika Day, a mother living in Douglasville, attended the festival with her seventh-grade daughter to expose her to the energy and atmosphere of an HBCU campus, something Day says she did not get to experience when she was young.

“I went to a PWI, so my experiences now as an adult, I see the value in why it’s important to teach my children and other children about HBCUs and giving back and how we need to support each other,” Day said.

HBCUs are in the midst of a boom period, according to a recent New York Times report, between 2018 and 2021, applications for HBCUs have “increased by 30%” and submissions using the Common Black College Application are “projected to reach 40,000 this year, quadruple the total in 2016” the report says.

Atlanta Black Star highlighted several high-performing high school seniors across the country choosing HBCUs over PWIs including Makenzie Thompson from Atlanta, who was accepted into 49 schools across the country and chose Tuskegee University.

“I have the opportunity to spend four years around people who look like me, who want to do the same things like me and want to succeed like me,” Thompson said in March as she explained her decision to choose an HBCU.

Fifteen-year-old Elijah Precciely, the gifted Louisiana teen who chose to follow in his family’s footsteps, started attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at just 11-years-old.

“To let the people know there is gold in these HBCUs, and you can get an equal or even better education there,” Steve Precciely, father of Elijah Precciely, told Atlanta Black Star this spring.

Several HBCUs set up information booths in Clark Atlanta’s Epps Gymnasium so middle and high school students thinking about their future understands what HBCUs have to offer.

“My daughter is here with me today, she’s only in the seventh grade, but it is never too early to start teaching and showing your kids about colleges and admissions and where they need to go and where they should start,” Day said.

In addition to the college fair, The Big Homecoming festival also included an all-day festival on June 18, full of music, tailgating, food, art, and guest appearances from artists including Jeezy, Jermaine Dupri, Lil Duval and Montell Jordan. Organizers say they will visit more HBCUs across the country promoting education, leadership, financial literacy, and wellness.

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