Homecoming King Payton Head talks involvement, social justice and inclusivity

Head’s participation in the Mizzou Alumni Association Homecoming came a cost as he missed the Legion of Black Collegians’ Homecoming events.
The 2015 Mizzou Homecoming royalty candidates pose for a group photo. Allison Fitts and Payton Head were named Homecoming queen and king respectively. Courtesy of Mizzou Creative/Shane Epping

When senior Payton Head was in high school, he never won anything. He applied for his homecoming royalty court all four years and never made it once on top 10. That’s why when he heard his name called as the 2015 Homecoming king at Faurot Field, he froze.

“It was really, really a shocker for me to win,” Head said. “I was just thrilled to be on court and serve with such incredible people. Any one of them standing next to me I thought would’ve made an amazing homecoming king or homecoming queen. It was baffling. I didn’t know what to say.”

This was the Missouri Students Association president and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. member’s first time participating in Mizzou Alumni Association’s Homecoming. He had been involved in the Legion of Black Collegians’ separate homecoming celebrations since his freshman year. In fact, he ran for LBC count as a freshman and lost that too.

Head has been an activist for social change since he stepped foot on MU. He joined the Social Justice committee as a freshman — then, it was called the Multicultural Issues committee, but Head changed the name during his sophomore year to reflect the current goals of the committee. Under his leadership, the MSA Social Justice committee was nominated for an Inclusive Excellence Award by the MU chapter of the NAACP and as the Coretta Scott King Organization of the Year in 2014.

The political science and international studies student grew up in Chicago. He and his twin sister Kandice have a strong bond that was made possible by their mother, they said in an article published by Student Affairs in August.

The twins, who were both on MAA Homecoming Royalty Top 10, took MU by storm. Head immediately found his niche in the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center among student leaders he looked up to.

“(The people) I have gotten most of my inspiration for leadership are people who were on LBC and LBC royalty at the time,” he said. “That’s where I grew as a student leader.”

He said he applied for Homecoming Royalty first and foremost for his fraternity. While he was appreciative of MAA’s events, he was sad he missed all of LBC’s. He called this fall’s homecoming celebrations “bittersweet.”

“It was sweet in the fact that I was able to experience a different side of homecoming this year, but it was bitter because there are so many amazing traditions that happen on our campus, and I really don’t think people started scrutinizing LBC homecoming this year because LBC royalty was verbally assaulted, and that’s what it took for people to say ‘I stand with LBC,’” Head said.

Head, who is supportive of LBC having its own separate homecoming, said being a part of MAA’s celebrations this year was also very, very difficult after LBC was harassed at Traditions Plaza. Being on the other side of homecoming this year, Head saw how deeply rooted the university is in its traditions. These traditions, one of which is MAA Homecoming, weren’t created for him, he said.

“When you are put on royalty (court), you are representing the university at a higher level and you are representing one of the most famed traditions of Mizzou,” he said. “We are the birthplace of homecoming: 1911 versus the Kansas Jayhawks on (Rollins) field. But it’s a tradition that wasn’t created for me or to include me.”

It was a tradition Head loved being a part of. But like other aspects of the university, he thinks it can be more inclusive. He said MAA Director Todd McCubbin and Aly Friend, the MAA coordinator of student programs, were extremely open to having conversations about inclusivity so that students could be engaged in both traditions.

“While it might have been difficult for me, I still acknowledge that it was an honor to be out there on the field, to honor my parents, to be honored in front of 70,000 people,” Head said. “And that is the beauty of homecoming: celebrating not only me, but the students who are standing next to me who have done so much to make Mizzou better.”

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