After Jordan Peele dropped the trailer for his new film Us on Christmas, some of the giddiest reactions were not a result of the movie itself, but the sight of star Winston Duke rocking a sweatshirt that said Howard on the front. Howard University, of course, is the famous historically black college whose accomplished alumni includes author Toni Morrison, This Is Us starSusan Kelechi Watson, and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, among many others. Howard fans and alums rejoiced, bragging on social media about seeing their school represented in that way only Howard alums can. “But did your HBCU gear get worn in a horror film?” wrote one Twitter user. “No? That’s what I thought!”
But it’s not like Howard alums and fans are starved for representation. This Is Us painted Howard as a kind of Shangri-La for Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who lacked a connection to black culture at home. Howard was vaunted as a big deal on black-ish this season too, when Junior (Marcus Scribner) chose the university over the Ivy League school Stanford. (Not incidentally, Howard is also the school star Anthony Anderson and his fictional character Dre attended.) It’s even on reality TV: The Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey dropped her daughter Noelle off at Howard in an episode that aired in December. It seems like any time a black kid on TV or film goes to an HBCU these days, he or she is headed to Howard.
It makes sense. Howard has earned its legendary status by nurturing some of the most accomplished minds of the day by being a school of choice for rich kids, working-class students and international pupils alike. It’s also notable for its epic homecoming weekends, during which hip-hop royalty like one-time student Diddy and rapper Jay-Z have partied. Meanwhile, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Howard graduate and current California senator Kamala Harris spoke on campus after announcing she’s running for president in 2020. At this point, Howard has become so frequently named-dropped in mainstream culture, particularly as African Americans gain more exposure in TV and film, that it’s perhaps starting to overshadow a truth many may not know: there are a lot of other HBCUs — 101 others, to be exact — besides Howard.