SpelHouse. As a current Spelmanite ( Student of Spelman College), I have come to know this portmanteau word well. With Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia literally across the street from each other, it seems at times that we are not two separate Historically Black Colleges but two arms of one college body. This is why over the last one hundred plus years, Spelman and Morehouse have not only a combined nickname but homecomings, teams, choirs, and many marriages of students. It doesn’t offend me when people say I go to SpelHouse instead of Spelman, because in a way that is the community of the school that I attend. But I definitely got very offended when I learned last week that a student of Howard University was trying to trademark the term SpelHouse for his own profit. Like, who DOES that?
Legacy History Pride is an HBCU sportswear brand owned by that current Howard University student, who happens to be a legacy of parents who also started a popular HBCU sportswear company back in their day, the School of Hard Knocks brand and the Tradition Ever Since brand. Ok, props. Maybe this is why the owner of Legacy History Pride felt entitled enough to put in that paperwork to trademark the portmanteau SpelHouse after the basketball player Chris Paul wore the Legacy History Pride SpelHouse crewneck and shorts to the NBA Playoffs. Once word got out on January 12th about the trademark papers that this Howard Student had submitted, SpelHouse and HBCU social media was soon in an uproar with everyone having an opinion on the matter. Legacy History Pride soon released a not-so-great Twitter statement on the matter (That has since been deleted) and, to squelch bad press even further, a discount on all SpelHouse gear. Ok, um, thanks?
Thinking of this current controversy in the HBCU culture brings up many thoughts.
For one, after reading that explanation given on Legacy History Pride’s Twitter page as to why they tried to trademark the SpelHouse name was total BULL*insert poop emoji*. The explanation gave that “I’m Black and trying to do what white men do, before the white men think to do it” feeling. I think many in the Black community, particularly cis Black men, look at the idea of freedom and liberty in this country as being able to do the same things cis white rich men are able to do. Considering the fact that cis white rich men are responsible for most of the genocides, apartheid, and slave trades of the last millennia… trying to emulate them ain’t it. So many entrepreneurs and businesses in the Black community have been taken advantage of due to laws and practices that were made to keep them struggling; before many even knew these laws and practices existed. We shouldn’t make a habit or even allow other Black and brown people to use those laws and practices against each other for their own financial gain. We all we got.
Also, call me nostalgic, but should certain aspects of any culture even BE owned by one entity? If this trademark is approved that means that every little Etsy shop selling SpelHouse gear or every SpelHouse alum that wants to make any merchandise for homecoming with the portmanteau word ‘SpelHouse’ on it needs to ask for permission or give a certain percentage of their profits to the owner of Legacy History Pride. Even though these Etsy shops and alums probably learned of Spelhouse and make their coins the same way as this business. The portmanteau SpelHouse is older than all of us with no research as to when it started. Legacy History Pride did not make the word, nor does the owner even attend either of the schools in question. So why should any one of us, with the same knowledge and feelings surrounding a piece of HBCU culture, have access and sole compensation to it?
And where does the compensation on this piece of HBCU culture go once it’s trademarked and we no longer have free access to it? Legacy History Pride quickly claimed, in that poorly written Twitter statement, that the company would donate the earnings from the SpelHouse gear and licensing agreements to the company’s own foundation that supports HBCU students. Foundation? Alliance? What alliance? After less than a day of the trademark story going viral, a Twitter user, who was also an HBCU alum, quickly found out the ‘foundation’ had no legal 501(c)(3)non-profit status and was under no obligation to distribute charitable funds or record them. Did they not think that information would be discovered? Y’all gonna stop undermining these HBCU degrees like we did not study law, accounting and finance just like the PWIs you look up to and hold in high regard.
Listen, I know that HBCUs need and deserve just as much as PWIs, and thanks to recent events are starting to get more of it. Schools like Southern, Fisk, Howard, Clark Atlanta, and of course SpelHouse were bound to grow more in notoriety with the even greater rise of Black Lives Matter last summer. With that notoriety comes the Beckys and the Karens, along with their Kens and Stuarts that paid attention in finance class and own these major corporations that want to profit off of this moment. I know that, and see how many are now profiting off of the Black Lives Matter slogan without actually contributing to the cause. But hear me out; instead of trying to profit off of such a big piece of HBCU culture, that I feel no one person can claim, why don’t we start using those funds to help…hmm, I don’t know. How about…HBCUs and the students who attend them?
You are currently reading a piece written by a student that is struggling financially at SpelHouse to the point of homelessness. Constantly wondering if I'm ever going to have enough to get a degree from this institution that pours self-esteem and knowledge into me, or if I’ll just have to drop out of school entirely like many others have had to do at SpelHouse. I do not live far from Morris Brown College, the oldest HBCU in Atlanta that unfortunately had to close its doors and lose it’s accreditation not too long ago due in large part to funding. HBCUs are closing while the HBCU clothes and hashtags online grow. I do think if there’s going to be a new trend of trademarking pieces of HBCUs the money should go to those people and schools in our community that need it most instead of in another pocket that MAY give us a few fake foundation crumbs. Hasn’t the financial aid office given us enough broken promises of financial help?
But Chile…Let me hurry up and publish this before I get a trademark infringement for this SpelHouse piece; you know, for the culture.