We’re Black and we went to Harvard and Howard. So we had to ask, which HU kept it the realest?
Those People publisher, Felicia Megan Gordon and editor, John Lee Fisher, rate the institutions of higher learning you love to hate.
Felicia went to Harvard. I (John) went to Howard. Both HUs inspire praise and derision (you know that person who screams, “H_ isn’t that hard once you get in!” at the faintest mumbling of either H-bomb) and both have turned out some pretty exceptional Black people.
One afternoon us two Blacks decided to figure out which HU deserved to be crowned The Realest HU.
We give you anecdotes. You decide by responding at the end.
Realest Freshman Dorm
John: Drew Hall, it’s the freshman male dorm. My boy Quellman Yediah called it the Middle Passage. Howard had four buildings that housed freshmen women called the Quad and Drew Hall, and one five story building that housed the majority of the freshmen men. I would say that only four floors worth of dudes ended up coming back the next year and about three floors graduated. That year was crazy, but also one of the best years of my life. Slap boxing, video games, joning, rapping, joking around, fighting, floor battles, and some of the most profound discussions about any and everything. There were dudes from all over the country and the world there. It was like a proving ground. Whenever I meet a guy who went to Howard I always ask him if he lived in Drew. Because if he punked out and moved to the Towers or someplace else he’s probably a… I’ll just leave it at that. I guess I have a Drew Hall bias.
Felicia: 29 Garden Street. This wasn’t really a dorm, but it was my dorm freshman year because Harvard was re-doing the dorms in the Yard in 1993. First of all, it wasn’t really anywhere near the Yard, closer to the Quad where most of the Black upper classmen lived at that time. There was this thing called the shuttle that you could wait for to take you back-and-forth if you were too lazy to walk, though. A little like busing. But I was cool with it because I never liked hanging out with predetermined groups of people (aka my “class”) and I got to sneak into way better cafeterias to eat at least one good meal a day. Also, 29 Garden was essentially an apartment building. Yeah. I had my own room, kitchen, and bathroom freshman year. Sure, I didn’t really have a classic freshman experience, but who really needs a freshman experience?
Realest Tuition Collection
John: We have a saying at a Howard:
If you can get validated (for classes) at Howard, you can do anything.
Howard is really about survival. It’s tough there for a lot of different reasons, but if you persevere and stay focused, there’s no place on Earth that a degree from Howard can’t take you. Because if you’re able to actually get a degree from Howard you’re a fighter. I said all of that to say this: Howard administratively can be a nightmare. So as far as realest tuition collection, Harvard would most definitely lose. Enough said.
Felicia: I lived in fear of getting to the front of that massive line on the first day and having a red dot on my packet. Sometimes I did, sometimes didn’t. Sometimes I enrolled in classes right away, sometimes I didn’t, but I made it. All of us made it (I think).
Realest Professor Who Had Blacks’ Backs
John: Dr. Keith Jones in School of “C”. I use to fall asleep in his class and he gave me one of those I Think That You Have The Potential To Be Something Great speeches. Professor DeGraffe. He was my screenwriting teacher. Dr. Singleton in the theatre department. Kelsie Collie. My Race and Racism and Speech professor. I apologize, but I can’t remember all of their names. Professor Mahadevan. He taught me freshman English and told me that I was a great writer, but still gave me a “D” because I bullshitted around in his class. Truthfully, I feel bad singling out any teachers because there were so many who inspired me. As a Black man, going to Howard makes you feel like a king, like there’s nothing that you can’t accomplish. It’s almost like heaven on Earth in a lot of ways.
Felicia: This would have to go to Dr. S. Allen Counter. I’m not sure he was a professor technically, at least at the time I attended, but what I do know is he shepherded through my crazy idea of having the first ever Hip Hop Conference at Harvard to honor the deaths of the late great Christopher Wallace AKA Biggie Smalls and Tupac Amaru Shakur. This was not a well thought through idea at all. It was born out of sadness and a belief that anything was possible. I knew nothing about putting on a conference, but I had at that time well meaning, resourceful friends who had made other events happen. Suffice it to say, even though the Almighty RSO tried to shut us down for not inviting them, causing the then Conrad Muhammad to summon his Fruit of Islam brothers to keep the peace, everything pretty much went off without a hitch. Now, this would have never been possible without the unmitigated support (emotional and financial) and protection of Dr. Counter. He was also a crucial support for other stellar productions such as the Eleganza fashion show and Parade of Stars (shout out to Dr. Chettana Okasi, my classmate, for conceiving of and pulling off both). Dr. Counter almost never told us no, but he did more than that. He made sure that when we had dreams, we knew we could hold our heads high while making them a reality with the University’s endorsement. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. Rest in peace.
Realest Film Professor
Felicia: Spike Lee. Funny that back then it seemed perfectly normal that we’d have Spike Lee for a film professor. I mean, why not? It was the early 90s and we were basking in our blackness at Harvard. It was definitely not normal, but it was a great time. I remember getting cursed out by John Singleton for asking about Janet Jackson’s rather remarkable character transition in Poetic Justice. He never answered my question, but he did make me know that my “white” sounding intonation wasn’t black enough for him to respect anything coming out of my mouth. I think Spike was hiding under the podium while this was going on. I don’t even know where John Singleton is or what he does these days. Mom always used to say, “People aren’t how they are just to you.” Anyway, I remember that I’d signed up for office hours with Spike. I was late, mostly because I lived nowhere near campus (remember, 29 Garden Street). As I was running up to his office, he was leaving the building. He said four words: “You late, you lose.” As intended, a great lesson was learned that day. Shout out to Professor Lee’s teaching assistant who rocked a perfect flat top and trench coat combo to every class.
John: Professor Haile Garima. I interned at his company Mypheduh Films when he was self-releasing his film Sankofa on video. It was amazing. We’d ship tapes to people and schools all over the world. I got a chance to talk to him everyday and see him interact with his family. He’s a beautiful family man, a true artist, and a lowkey brilliant businessman. When you first meet him — no, all of the time really — he can be a little abrasive and confrontational, but he’s really a very nice and supportive person. Just come correct or he will check you.
Realest Professor with A Record
Felicia: Professor Henry Louis Gates. Oddly he seems not to recognize me these days, but when I was on campus, he was a huge academic support system for me. I had made the, at that time, crazy decision to concentrate in History and Literature of America and Afro-American studies, because I thought they would go well together. Insane, right? Well, one department was not like the other and made it very difficult for me to do both. Let’s just say that Professor Gates made a way for me and I was able to live my dream. I’ve heard others have done it after me. As an aside, I know Professor Gates was arrested for trying to enter his own house (because, Cambridge), but I’m not sure he has an actual record.
John: Professor Katz. She was a little Jewish lady, but came off like an old school Black grandmother a lot of the time. She was one of those people who didn’t have a bullshit filter. She just said what was on her mind and she stayed on me. Truthfully, I didn’t really get her at Howard, but I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of the things she taught me with age. You could have taken some of the things she said the wrong way if you didn’t understand, but I always knew that her heart was always in the right place.
Realest Black Graduate in HU History
Felicia: Obviously, President Barack Obama with the late sociologist W.E.B. DuBois coming in at a close second. I don’t think I need to go any further with this answer, so I won’t.
John: My all time favorite Howard graduate would have to be Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture. To me he’s the Forrest Gump of the Civil Rights movement. He marched with King, led SNCC, embraced Black nationalism, introduced the concept of Black Power, inspired the formation of the Black Panther Party, moved to Africa, married Mariam Makeba, and became an international voice for human rights around the world. J. Edgar Hoover feared after Dr. King’s death that he had the charisma to become a Black Messiah. How history has forgotten such a complex and prolific man baffles me. He came to speak on campus right after the Rodney King riots. I’ll always remember him saying that we as Black people needed to develop a true political infrastructure to protest the injustices that happen to us in this country because:
“You can’t just organize another riot next week next when something else happens.”
It makes me think about the Blacklivesmatter movement now and wonder what he would think about it.
As for Howard Law, I would have to say Thurgood Marshall.
The entire Civil Rights movement legally and politically was basically planned on our campus.
Realest Hip Hop Event
John: When Big Came to Howard. This is like a legendary, classic story. He came for homecoming with Puffy. I don’t give a fuck what he calls himself, he’ll always be Puffy to me. He was walking around campus and people were literally joning him and laughing in his face because of how he looked. Puffy walks on water at Howard and he was trying to defend him, but it didn’t help. Then Big performed and it was like a movie or something. He won everyone over. I damn near have tears in my eyes thinking about it. It was some inspirational shit. He took his art and made himself beautiful.
Felicia: Wow, I still remember seeing Biggie for the first time at some hole in the wall on the Upper East Side. My then friend John Forte was opening up for him. Biggie performed his single off of somebody’s soundtrack called Party and Bullshit. It was great until someone started shooting. But back to this.
I’ve already made reference to the Harvard Hip Hop Conference that I produced, but I’ll expand because it was epic. My friends and I managed to convince a bunch of people to come via my little fax machine in my dorm room. I think we even surprised ourselves. It was not without catastrophe, however. Other than Benzino and the Almighty RSO making one of our writers from VIBE cry and forcing a stand off with our Nation of Islam brothers, I think we lost Del tha Funky Homosapien at one point, which would have been on brand (for him) and fine except that he was supposed to perform. I’m sure we took people’s money but I’m not sure that he ever performed. I believe this indie rapper named Supernatural stepped in and saved the day. He was a champ, actually, because although we had him staying in what was supposed to be an empty dorm room, the person whose room it was decided to stay and sleep there with him. Chubb Rock was an intellectual powerhouse, Vinny from Naughty by Nature was thoughtful and excellent, and many many other journalists and supporters made it an awesome if unlikely event. I know Harvard hadn’t seen anything like it before. I feel proud to be part of a few precedent-setting events and maneuvers.
Realest Invited Speaker
John: Nelson Mandela. What else do I need to say?
Felicia: The Reverend Al Sharpton. Now this was not the Reverend Al everyone is used to seeing these days. He was not thin and he did not wear (formal) suits. His curls were in their full glory, as were his sweatsuit and stomach. And guess what else were in full glory? His intellect, incredible facility with argument, passion and utmost respect. We were in awe. I was in shock. Coming from New York City at that time, my town had nothing but derision for the Reverend. Many still do. I learned a couple of things that evening: never judge a book by its cover and never listen to people with an agenda, particularly when that agenda relates to race. I saw for myself and what I saw was a genius.
Realest Now Famous Classmate
Felicia: I’m just gonna fold right now and give this one up to Howard. Proceed.
John: Two names come to mind. Taraji P. Henson and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I remember seeing Taraji in this play called “Crackin’ Up” about a group of girls who dated drug dealers and thinking that she could really make it. She stole the show. Other than that, I never really had any contact with her beyond seeing her around the theatre department.
Ta-Nehisi and my boy Charles Porter were cool so he would hang sometimes. Chuck and Ta-Nehisi used to have these philosophical conversations that would go on for hours. Ta-Nehisi never stopped talking about his ideas. You could bring up anything and he would have a theory about it. At the time, honestly, sometimes I would just be thinking ‘Yo, chill, and play some fuckin’ Techmo Bowl’, but I’m glad he didn’t. I hear him talk about things now and think he’s been contemplating this stuff for more than twenty years.
My boy Eric Roberson has made a name for himself as a singer. We lived across the hall from each other in Drew. Good dude. He used to read my scripts and they were shit, but he always read them and gave me good notes. I appreciated that.
Ananda Lewis. Omar Tyree. I think Laz Alonzo and Anthony Anderson were there at the same time, too.
Realest Child of Someone Famous
John: Freshman year I had to write a paper about Sonia Sanchez. I’m from Georgia. We studied F. Scott Fitzgerald, Twain, the quote-unquote mainstream greats. So I had no idea who she was.
I yell out of my door asking about her and everybody’s like, “Ask Ahi.”
Ahi was one of the realest dudes I had ever met in my life, but I didn’t think that he would know about some poet. Regardless, I knock on his door and ask him. He’s like hyped.
“Man, I can tell you everything that you need to know about her.”
So he leads me into his room and starts telling me all of these — in hindsight, personal — stories about her and other iconic activists and artists. We talked for about an hour.
As I’m walking out the door I ask him, “Man, how do you know all of this?”
He just gave me a look. He was Amiri Baraka’s son. At that point in my life, I don’t even know if I knew who Amiri Baraka was.
Plus, I had a class with Marlon Wayans. We had Intro to Media Relations or something together in School of “C” (Communications) and did a project together. Other than that I never really talked to him beyond What ups, but he seemed cool enough. Being a part of a hot entertainment family and being in college had to be tough on some level, though.
Felicia: I’m sure they were there, but I don’t remember any.