Fish-fry grease won’t be popping at the tailgate this year.
The hearts of Aggies everywhere were broken on June 18 when NCA&T State University released a statement announcing the cancellation of all in-person homecoming activities except for the football game due to the coronavirus.
“Although we are deeply disappointed we will not be able to honor this highly-anticipated tradition, we believe if we make the necessary sacrifices now, we hope to be able to see everyone next year, with even more anticipation, excitement and enthusiasm,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations Teresa Davis said in the statement.
“It really gutted me,” says film producer Brandon Deese. “I was like, ‘Dang, I’m not gonna be able to see my favorite cousins.’”
But rather than mope about the canceled festivities, Deese and his wife, Ashley, took the opportunity to finalize and present a new documentary, #StayAtHomecoming, which shares the rich history of A&T and how its homecoming came to be known as the “Greatest Homecoming on Earth.”
“This is really a love letter and a gift back to all that experience has given me,” says Deese, the co-owner of A2B Studios, the production company that produced the film.
Deese is the son of celebrated A&T alum Willie Deese and has been attending GHOE since 2005. His father, Willie, is a 1977 graduate of A&T and former Board of Trustees member. In February, A&T’s College of Business and Economics was renamed in his honor and the clock tower located in the middle of campus also bears he and his wife’s names.
The urge to celebrate what’s described by Brandon Deese as a “family reunion” could not be ignored, leading many to plan GHOE activities they could do from home. Instead of meeting her sorority sisters on the yard or attending the gospel concert, LaDonia Alford-Jefferies, author and adjunct professor at A&T, will hold the first virtual Homecoming Pride Pageant on Oct. 30 to coincide with her children’s book Homecoming, listed in Essence magazine as part of the 50 Must-Read Black Children’s and Young Adult Books of the Past 50 Years in April.
“It’s always really fun to see the little ones showcase their talents and their songs,” she says.
Jefferies, in partnership with A&T alumna and chef Nik Manning, will also host a tailgate-from-home event on Halloween, showing viewers how to make classic potato salad and Hennessy barbecue sauce.
Many will also be staying at home to watch the Deese’s new documentary.
Jasmine Wilson, a senior Psychology student serving as the Speaker’s Chair of the Student Union Activities Board, will be cheering on her friends as she views #StayAtHomecoming.
“I know some of my friends are going to be in it, so I’ll definitely be watching,” Wilson says. Ashley Deese says she was inspired to create a film showing HBCUs in a positive light after receiving negative comments when she pitched the idea for a show.
“I was working in a writer’s room for a drama series and I wanted the intelligent character to attend an HBCU,” she says. “I was just met with really negative, ignorant comments.”
The couple soon began working on a miniseries explaining the legacy of different HBCUs when Willie Deese joked his alma mater deserved top priority.
“If you’re gonna do an HBCU documentary, it better be mine first!” he told the couple.
After the announcement of a reimagined homecoming was made, the Deese’s saw an opportunity to finally release the footage they’d been saving for the miniseries.
“If homecoming is cancelled this year,” says Brandon Deese, “and we have all of this homecoming footage, there also might be a story here. This idea was birthed maybe two and a half months ago.”
#StayAtHomecoming features appearances by Chancellor Harold Martin and Sandra Hughes, 1969 graduate of A&T and the first Black female news anchor in the Piedmont.
Ashley Deese says the documentary would not have been possible without the help of current students, especially because the couple had to remotely produce the project from California where they reside. Kendall Ivy, a junior Journalism and Mass Communications student, served as the associate producer of the documentary and says she’ll be having a watch party for #StayAtHomecoming.
Although GHOE is definitely different this year, the Aggie pride remains strong as people gather around the living room instead of the football field. Alford-Jefferies says that GHOE is a longstanding tradition, and foregoing celebrating would be impossible.
“This is a first-time experience and we’re learning to adapt,” she says.
#StayAtHomecoming will air Friday, Oct. 30 at 9 p.m. on YouTube and Vimeo. It will be available on NCAT’s Facebook page on Saturday, Oct. 31. To learn more about the HBCU Homecoming Book, visit TheHBCUHomecomingBook.com.