An Evening with Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates visited Howard University on October 7th 2015 to kick off the national tour for his New York Times bestseller “Between the World and Me”. During his visit Coates gave his opinion on the state of black America in light of the present turmoil as it relates to the hope for a better black America or lack thereof.

“The hope is Howard University,” Coates said as he discussed his five-year stint as a student at the university which is also called “The Mecca”  by it’s students, and how ultimately he would take what he learned from his father and the Moorland Spingarn on-campus research facility and make a career out of it.

When asked about his experience at the lecture, William Hemsley, a staff member of the Howard University communications department said  “I had no prior knowledge of Ta-Nehisi Coates before I attended the lecture, but I thought he was very honest and sincere.”

Howard University has a lengthy list of many notable alumni aside from Coates that includes Thurgood Marshall, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen and Toni Morrison. It has been home to many outstanding figures within the Black American community.  

Though he never successfully graduated from Howard University he is revered as a “true son of Howard” as he has used the knowledge he found at “The Mecca” and gone on to find amazing success as author of Between the World and Me which reflects on the struggles of the Black American.

Coates has had an illustrious career as a journalist, even going on to becoming a National Correspondent for The Atlantic. The Atlantic is a highly respected news publication that covers politics, news, business, technology but more importantly culture where Coates specializes in particularly in regards to Black Americans.  

Ta-Nehisi opened the evening with an excerpt from his bestseller that set the tone for what was to follow for the rest of the evening. In his excerpt Coates vividly reflects on one of his memories as a student at Howard University and how being there gave him a subconscious sense of community among his own people. “I didn’t read the book but it’s now on my to do list”, said Helmsley.

He recalls how everyone around him, though very different we’re all one in the same, the “survivors of catastrophe”. Oddly enough his return to Howard has signified just that.

He is a survivor of catastrophe. Statistically speaking uneducated Black Americans are the highest unemployed race group.

Coates said even though” I was not the greatest student I never stopped studying”.


As a result of his hunger for black education he has still found accomplishments without the degree.

Coates spent the majority of the evening speaking highly of the importance of black educational institutions and what they represent.

As he recalled an interaction with a critic of his bestseller he was asked “why is the book so bleak? where is the hope?,” to which he replied the “the hope is in Howard University”.

He goes on to state multiple times that “there is a presence here that you simply can’t find anywhere else” as he referred to the black intellectuals present on the campus. He constantly credits the university and its Moorland Spingarn research facility for sparking all of his success.

As the evening came to a close the floor was opened to the University’s student body. They presented questions that challenged Cotes’ knowledge of the grand spectrum of the continuing black struggle.

However, if Coates did find himself without a response he would admit that he himself did not have all of the answers at this current moment. Much like the students present at his lecture he still considers himself a student when it comes to the subject area that he specializes in for the Atlantic. He said “journalism gives him an excuse to be a student again” because of all of the research it includes.


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