Majorettes of Jack & Jill of America Suffolk County perform at...

Majorettes of Jack & Jill of America Suffolk County perform at the 2024 Black History Month HBCU Homecoming Classic on Saturday in Brentwood. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

On its surface, the second annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities Homecoming Classic served as a college fair.

But it went much further than simply offering a chance for students to mingle with prospective universities.

The daylong event at Brentwood High School on Saturday provided students a deeper understanding of HBCUs and how they came to exist, as well as forums to interact with experts across a variety of career fields, and background on the “Divine Nine” — historically African American fraternities and sororities.

Jack and Jill of America Suffolk County, a membership organization that focuses on leadership development, cultural heritage and youth development, hosted the event in partnership with the Brentwood school district and timed it to coincide with Black History Month.

More on HBCUs

For more information about HBCUs and application and scholarship information, visit the United Negro College Fund at uncf.org or Jack and Jill of America Suffolk County at jjsuffolkcounty.org.

Sybil Wells, a panelist who has worked for various nonprofits, advised the students who filled the bleachers of the high school gymnasium that there are “many pathways to get to a destination. Find what’s right for you.”

Mecca Baker, an event organizer from Jack and Jill Suffolk County, said the goal is to make the homecoming classic an annual event to bring awareness to Long Island students about the option of an HBCU.

She said representatives from about a dozen HBCUs attended.

Students had the opportunity in the morning to attend workshops with panelists of experts representing different fields such as medicine, education, government and arts.

“They’re learning more about the specific subject matter now so they can say is this something that interests me in the future,” said Wendy Lattibeaudiere, president of Suffolk County chapter of Jack and Jill of America.

Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), the keynote speaker, shared her experience of attending Spelman College, a historically Black liberal arts college in Atlanta, and the challenges she faced in her life, including losing both her parents at a young age.

“I wanted to attend an HBCU because I wanted to be immersed in us,” she said to the audience. “I wanted to be immersed in our essence.”

In one workshop room, several attorneys discussed their paths into law while providing advice that goes beyond any single career.

“Always be open to learn something new,” said Candace Gomez-Roberts, an attorney who represents school districts, including the Brentwood district.

The panelists urged students to read as much as possible and to invest in their own future.

Samantha McEachin, a Long Island native, shared her journey to becoming an attorney for the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates sports like boxing and MMA.  

It’s a job that’s forced her to expand her knowledge and to continue learning about new fields, such as the science of traumatic brain injuries.

She said it’s critical as an attorney to understand the subject matter.

Brentwood High School senior Eloy Mendez-Vargas, 18, said he was still examining potential college options as he attended the homecoming classic.

“I’m trying to do whatever’s good for me, and if it happens to be an HBCU, I’d love to go,” he said.

Mendez-Vargas attended the law workshop and said he took away the message of “resilience and grit.”

“I was really happy to be in a room with people who understand what that is,” he said.

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