(Photo courtesy of AJC.com) Gaines Hall, one of the shuttered buildings on the failing Morris Brown College campus
If your parents were anything like my mom, they would tell you as a child to take care of what you have. You don’t let someone come in your home and tear up any of your possessions. And if you don’t take care of what’s yours, you’re bound to lose it.
Those who love Morris Brown College are about to learn this lesson the hard way as Friendship Baptist Church, the entity that owns MBC and its land, may soon sell to the city of Atlanta, Georgia so that the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League can build a billion-dollar stadium in that area. Friendship Baptist as of Monday morning is still scheduling a vote that would decide the fate of one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges.
It’s unfortunate that Morris Brown is on life support and as an HBCU alum, I certainly wish there was something that could be done to save it. Sadly, the caretakers of MBC didn’t do a good job of taking care what was theirs, so now it’ll almost certainly belong to the pages of history.
The sad demise of Morris Brown College began in 2002, when the school lost its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation because of persisting financial problems. Those problems came to light when former president Dolores Cross and director of financial aid Parvesh Singh were found to be defrauding on student loans for personal staff, although the judge felt it was a misguided attempt to keep the school going.
Ever since then, Morris Brown has been in a vegetative state. The school discontinued athletics in 2003 and has had fewer than 1,000 students every year since the scandal first became public knowledge. Attempts by radio personality and HBCU philanthropist Tom Joyner were rebuffed and as recently as June, an offer from the city of Atlanta to settle the debt and allow Friendship Baptist to continue to operate MBC on a rent basis was rejected.
If Friendship Baptist opts to sell to the city (and at 19.5 million dollars, I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t), then MBC’s buildings – the four that remain – would almost certainly be torn down to make way for a revitalization project that would include a grand stadium for the Falcons, who have become a power team in the sports world. This would also make Morris Brown the second HBCU to close its doors this summer – Saint Paul’s College of Lawrenceville, VA discontinued classes earlier this year and ceased operation June 30.
The sale of the land would be the final nail in the coffin in a sad, brutal and painfully drawn-out demise of Morris Brown College, one that could’ve been avoided. Friendship Baptist should have taken Tom Joyner up on his offer years ago or had a better plan in place than relying on Family Dollar to save them. Either way, it’s been painful to watch MBC fade away. Hopefully this, along with Saint Paul’s closure, will help HBCU alums realize that our time, our money and our resources are sorely needed to keep our schools going.
The mission of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is still as relevant today as when the first wave of HBCUs opened during Reconstruction. HBCUs have always served as a chance for African-Americans wanting to continue their education to have somewhere to go, learn from great professors, meet new people and have positive experiences that will stay with them for life. That mission is becoming more important now that Affirmative Action is facing its greatest challenge.
Regardless of what happens to Morris Brown, HBCU staff, students, alumni and admirers must do a better job of taking care of what is ours.
If not, we’re surely going to lose it all.