Morehouse College has been the breeding ground for some of the most pivotal African American figures in American history. When the time came for me to apply to college, I filed a single application – early decision. There was no other place in the world that I would have rather spent my undergraduate years. I remember the first time I stood at the feet of the Martin Luther King. Jr. statue in front of the chapel that is named in his honor. I looked up at the bronze figure of this giant of a man and dreamed of what my experience might look like. I never imagined, as I looked up to the man my parents saw fit to name me after, that in that very same chapel I would meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Mayor Andrew Young, or Dr. David Satcher. I couldn’t have fathomed that on those very steps I would have the opportunity to share my initiation into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated or to speak in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church on national television, or even to be mentored by Christine King Farris. Though my experience was rich, l hardly believe it was atypical. It is often said; “you can always tell a Morehouse Man, but you can’t tell him much else.” When it comes to Mother Morehouse, I have yet to hear an argument that has made me consider that I would have been better served by another institution. However, given the present challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, I wonder how many other young men and women will be able to leave their respective institutions with such fond memories.
Morehouse, like nearly all of our HBCUs, finds itself in a difficult position. Unexpected policy changes mandated by the federal government have jeopardized loan eligibility for many students and families. Such changes have disproportionately affected the “forty-six percent of students at historically black colleges [who] come from families with incomes lower than $34,000” (UNCF). In just his first year, President John Wilson C ’75 recently terminated 70 members of the faculty and closed a residence hall in an effort to address severe budget shortfalls.
Despite the present challenges, I still believe that Morehouse is the right place for the betterment of young men. Morehouse is a place where 500 young black men are bestowed their Bachelor’s degrees annually, while targeting first generation college students and those with limited access. Morehouse, like all HBCUs, holds a special place in the African-American narrative and in the greater narrative of the United States.
Morehouse men must respond to these hurdles and, in doing so, they must openly acknowledge that they cannot do it alone. There is a role for each Historically Black College and University—as well as other Minority Serving Institutions—in meeting their collective goal to educate those students who been left out. The survival of these colleges and universities and their ability to effectively shape our society will depend on new levels of coordination, cooperation, and resource-sharing that will bolster the mission of each. The Morehouse Man of tomorrow, as well as the illustrious men and women who will be the torchbearers of their respective MSIs, will no doubt find themselves at the right place, at the right time. If they are wise, they will also find a means to empower one another to new heights and recognize that what is good for the few is good for the whole.
Desmond Diggs is a graduate student in the International Education Development Program at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. He is also a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and the founder of Teach For Liberia, Incorporated, a teacher recruitment initiative aimed at recruiting talented teachers to bolster the fledgling education system in post-conflict Liberia. His research interests include, development and post-conflict economics, economics of education, and ICT as tools for development.