Perhaps there has never been a time when the students, faculty, and alumni at Howard University were free from struggle. This University is a place where the fight for good over evil has consistently played out in the classrooms, in the administration building, and in the board room. It is a battle that is as profound as the universe itself.
Unfortunately, some HowardU-loving folks believe it is inappropriate to speak about such things. Some deeply believe that Howard’s shining glory is the only thing we should talk about. The airing of “dirty laundry” has long been taboo in Black life. It’s particularly true at Howard. Discretion has its place, for sure, but there are times when transparency works as a salve, no matter how uncomfortable the healing process. Be clear that I don’t enjoy exposing the ugliness of Howard University. Yet, we must acknowledge that Howard is a safe haven for people (students, alumni, faculty, administrators, staff, contractors, friends, supporters, and donors) who will justify nearly anything in pursuit of power and money. For more than 150 years, it is a space that has nurtured freedom-fighters, yes, but it is also a base for the intellectual, political, spiritual, and biological descendants of those Africans who sold other Africans into chattel slavery. But not only Howard. Wherever people of African ancestry are in the world, wherever human beings are in general, there will be an epic battle for good over evil. Everything in human history teaches us that.
I’m on the side of the fighters for freedom. I come from the lineage of ancestors who stand up against—publicly and privately—the silencing, disenfranchisement, and abuse of Black people—by Black people and others. My spiritual and political lineage doesn’t take kindly to lies and half-truths (and we don’t accept ugliness in spirit and petty shit either). We will discuss, debate, organize, sit in, demonstrate, takeover buildings, and take direct action against the flow and trend of oppressive thoughts and deeds. And, very specifically, we believe that the whole truth matters when the topic is Black life. And for us, the topic is always Black life.
On Howard’s campus, the students are at day 11 of yet another student protest. Since Tuesday, October 12th I have been intimately involved and engaged with the current student protesters, alumni, and faculty. One of the students’ demands is for the Board of Trustees to restore Affiliate Trustee positions (in June 2021, the Board announced the elimination of those positions, and all hell broke loose). As one of the many architects of the 1989 Student Takeover at Howard, I have generously given counsel, guidance, and money every time that I am asked to do so by the students themselves. Countless other alumni do the same. And every time, it’s a disgusting situation to be in. No amount of intellect, historical context, nor our keen ability to connect the dots within the figurative Howard University Elitist Policy Book keeps us from being outraged every time the ugly side of the University rears its grotesque head. Simultaneously, we couldn’t be more thrilled to support the current students. They are on a righteous path to help make the University more accountable, humane, and progressive. We understand that the spiritual and tangible essence of Howard University–its soul and its matter, its keys and its locks—remain in conflict. Still, we will never stop pushing for Howard University to evolve beyond its elitist, deeply Euro-centric understanding of how to exist in the narrow realm of higher education and in the broader context of Black institutions.
My life and living are shaped by traditional African culture and values and, as a result, I’ve come to understand that struggle and chaos are the natural order of the world. Conflict and collision are inevitable wherever human beings are. But none of that means that we are bound to sorrow and doom, that we can’t have joy-filled lives. I believe that we must decide to live courageously and without fear, even if it’s an unpopular stance to take. The problem with Howard and how it governs is that it seems to believe that it owns the University. Maybe that’s written somewhere on a legal document and folks just readily abide by those rules without question. But we, the fighters for freedom, question and push and demand better of Howard. We question, push, and demand better not only because we love Howard and HBCUs, but because we want all Black people to have healthy interior and external relationships wherever we are in the world. That is what makes every Howard student protest bigger than itself.
– April R. Silver
Howard University Graduate, Class of 1991 (English Major)
Former President, Alpha Phi Alpha Sweetheart Court
Former Writer, The Hilltop
Former Executive Minister, Black Nia F.O.R.C.E.
Co-Leader and Spokesperson, HU Student Takeover of 1989
Former President, Howard University Student Association (HUSA)
Founding President, The Cultural Initiative, Inc. (aka the Hip Hop Conference at Howard University)