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The Top 10 HBCU moments of 2017

You didn’t know? Now you know they involved sports, politics, homecomings and Betsy DeVos

When it comes to historically black colleges and universities, we often get the short end of the stick. Created for us and by us, the institutions are saddled with financial and other social issues that create a disadvantage, not unlike what life has been like for black folks in this country since we were brought here against our will. So when we achieve, it’s time to celebrate.

That said, in sports, we tend to thrive. HBCUs have storied athletic histories that, when pooled together, rank up there with some of the best in history. But with President Barack Obama leaving office, there were some political things that happened in and around the schools that definitely are worth noting.

So let’s break down the Top 10 HBCU moments of 2017, because when it comes down to it, we the best.

NO. 10

The Falcons fly high

The Saint Augustine Falcons won their fifth consecutive men’s Division II track title this year and did it in grand fashion. On the last day of the meet, the Raleigh, North Carolina, school stormed back into the competition, managing to win the whole thing, with five sprinters combining for a 52-point effort to give them their 16th overall championship, a pretty stunning feat. They won with only seven members, and coach George Williams, considered a legend in the game, dubbed them the “Magnificent Seven.”

And Saint Augustine’s Tia-Adana Belle, a senior from St. George, Barbados, cemented her status as the best women’s 400-meter hurdler in Division II history by winning her third straight national title in a Division II record time of 55.42 seconds at the NCAA outdoor championships in May. Belle is the first three-time Division II champion in the event since 2002 and the second in Division II history. She shattered the former record of 55.82 seconds that she set at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championships in April. That’s #BlackGirlMagic.

NO. 9

The Bison take a knee

Colin Kaepernick’s efforts in trying to create awareness about police brutality have been extremely visible since he first took a knee during the national anthem before a 2016 NFL game. The repercussions were far-reaching and wide, with President Donald Trump even chiming in as only he can. Kaep’s actions inspired action all across the country in all walks of life — and you can check the hashtag #TakeAKnee if you’re hating.

On Oct. 17, before a football game against North Carolina A&T, the entire Howard Bison cheerleading squad took a knee, prompting a New York Times story about their protest. With its location in the nation’s capital and its status as arguably the country’s most visible HBCU, Howard’s move was certainly well-noticed. Two of the team captains later went on to hold up fists during the band’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which means, at the very least, you should learn the words to what people call the black national anthem since we know you ain’t brushed up on the lyrics, which are inscribed on the wall at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

NO. 8

Demetrius Sims of Bethune-Cookman was the highest selected HBCU player in the MLB draft, going in the 14th round to the Miami Marlins.

Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

It’s not just Jackie Robinson

We all know about the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman who broke the color line in major league baseball so many years back, but our history on the diamond is far deeper. So many decades later, though, there are still many questions about African-American participation in the sport. The problem is so serious that many HBCUs have taken to fielding quite a few white players because players want to play — no matter where. It’s a complex problem that trickles down to the little league level, as noted when the Chicago Jackie Robinson West league was stripped of its U.S. title because of residency rules. Those rules, by the way, are unfair by default since redlining and other racist housing practices have forever hindered black people’s ability to sustain stable living situations.

In 2017, eight HBCU players were taken in the MLB draft, a remarkable number. Demetrius Sims of Bethune-Cookman was the highest selected, going in the 14th round to the Miami Marlins. And, as mentioned, they weren’t all black players. Devin Hemmerich of Norfolk State, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) pitcher of the year, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 26th round. Here’s a list of all the guys who will soon be playing professional baseball.

NO. 7

Doug Williams, Senior Vice President of Player Personnel for the Washington Redskins.

Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A legend gets his due

It might have been the last team to integrate in the NFL, but this year, Washington’s football team hired an HBCU legend to a prominent position. Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and a former Grambling State legend (as well as head coach), was named the vice president of player personnel, the third-highest position in the franchise.

With so many black players in the league and so few of them making it to the front office and executive level, it was a big moment for those who are looking to do more than just make millions by seeking glory on the field. If we penetrate the ranks of the decision-makers, not just the ones risking their lives every week in front of America, we’re moving a step closer to equality overall.

No. 6

Hampton breaks out

Not for nothing, but one of the big features of HBCU football is that basically all the NCAA Division I teams are in the same two conferences: the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the MEAC. As a result, for the past two years, ESPN has put on the Celebration Bowl, this year happening on Saturday, to crown the de facto HBCU football champ. That aside, the rivalries that have been in place for years among conference schools are nothing short of legendary.

So when Hampton decided to leave the MEAC for the Big South Conference after this season, it sent shock waves through the HBCU community. How will this affect the battle for “the real HU” with Howard? Are Hampton’s other sports really ready to handle that switch? Not everyone loves the decision, and if this becomes a habit for similar schools across the country, the ripple effect to the core of HBCU sports could be monstrous. We played each other because often there was no one else to play. Can the traditions of old stay alive if we don’t stick together? It’s a scary prospect, but only time will tell.

No. 5

Back in March, President Donald Trump invited the presidents of many black schools to visit him in the White House, an act viewed as a bit of an olive branch for a politician whose reputation is not exactly great when it comes to our people. You might recall him once saying, “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” which isn’t exactly the kindest way to describe a large percentage of the nation.

So when they all showed up to the Oval Office in March, it was quite a sight. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway made a mockery of the proceedings, sitting with her feet on a couch while the educators spoke with Trump, like some teenager at a sleepover. It was pretty disrespectful overall, and the internet let her know about it. Nothing exactly came of the matter, and it was viewed as just another ham-handed photo op, particularly afterward when Trump intimated that he might actually cut funding for HBCUs despite previously saying they’d be a priority.

Later in the year, Trump named ex-NFL player Johnathan Holifield to head up his black college initiative, whatever that may be. As it turns out, Holifield, who is black, didn’t even go to an HBCU. This is known as: the jig.

No. 4

Tarik Cohen #29 of the Chicago Bears was recruited from North Carolina A&T.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

NFL, here we come

Football, on the other hand, is a place where black players have always been welcome. Over the years, quite a few NFL stars have risen from the ranks of HBCU play, most notably Steve McNair of Alcorn State, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a quarterback in 1994. His tragic death was a very sad moment for not just fans of the teams he played for but for HBCUs overall.

This year, four players were picked in the NFL draft from black schools. Quite a few more were signed as free agents out of college or invited to NFL camps. Tarik Cohen of North Carolina A&T is easily the best of the bunch, and many people consider him to be the best overall player on the Chicago Bears roster. Here’s a list of all the guys who got their shot in the league this season.

No. 3

David A. Thomas, the new president of Morehouse College

Courtesy Morehouse College

Morehouse finds a leader

If we’re being real, Morehouse College, which boasts notable alums such as Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and (family plug alert) my cousin Dwayne Dugger — a member of The Hooligans, Bruno Mars’ band — has been a mess in terms of leadership. Officials there got into all sorts of trouble over what was viewed as a silencing of students, and there are still a lot of questions as to how they’ve handled various sexual assault allegations from students at nearby Spelman College. Not a good look at all.

But, after three failed attempts, they finally found their man in David A. Thomas, who became the 12th president in the school’s history. All schools have history when it comes to administrative concerns, and black colleges are certainly no different. Just ask Howard, as they’re definitely familiar with that bit. Hope Morehouse can right the ship, as it is still one of the most well-known HBCUs in the world, and its reputation, fairly or not, affects us all.

No. 2

FAMU’s Marching 100 drum majors perform during halftime for Florida A&M University’s homecoming game against North Carolina A&T at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., Oct. 14, 2017.

Andrea Cornejo for The Undefeated

Homecoming pride

We all know that when it comes to partying, HBCUs know what’s up. Of course, that’s not all that school is about, but when homecoming time is near, the turn up is real. It doesn’t really matter the institution, although some do it bigger than others. Homecoming is when people who didn’t even necessarily graduate show up. It’s when you travel to your homegirl’s school just to see what’s really happening on the yard. It’s where people who didn’t even go to HBCUs show up to see how lit it gets. It’s a celebration of the highest order for which people bring out their best.

This year was no different. All across the nation, HBCUs showed up and showed out, and it was a moment of collective healing across many weekends that we all needed. Check out the list of the best black homecoming moments of 2017, which were definitely tremendous.

No. 1

Betsy DeVos gets canceled

This choice was a no-brainer. If there’s one thing you’re not gonna do, it’s disrespect black students to their faces and expect to get away with it. But Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, was somehow picked to speak at Bethune-Cookman’s commencement ceremony, and it was a mess. You might recall that she called HBCUs the pioneers of school choice, a ridiculously bad mischaracterization of why these schools exist to begin with, in an attempt to support her own politics about how educational systems should be run. It was not only incorrect but also crass, considering the fact that schools like Morris Brown could barely survive in today’s higher education environment.

So when she showed up onstage in May in Daytona Beach, Florida, she got that work from the crowd. There were protesters outside before the event began, and throughout the ceremony, kids let her and the administration know how much they didn’t appreciate her presence. There was an incredible moment when Edison O. Jackson, the university’s president, threatened onstage to not hand out diplomas if the students didn’t stop booing.

My man sold himself all the way out for reasons that are still unknown. A few months later, homeboy retired, an extremely wack way to end a career that people thought was otherwise decent. It’s still really painful to think that Jackson basically ruined the end of the Bethune-Cookman educational careers for hundreds of students for the sake of a publicity stunt that backfired in his face. He made zero friends that day, and the entire HBCU community as a whole, never mind Bethune-Cookman grads, will never, ever forget it.

Clinton Yates is a tastemaker at The Undefeated. He likes rap, rock, reggae, R&B, and remixes — in that order.