Cookman Wildcats, Community or Chaos?

amanda wilkerson

Amanda Wilkerson

 

During the month of January, we pay special honor to Dr. Martin Luther King. King was a talented theologian, civil rights giant, and an American hero. His leadership on many causes became a template to fight against injustice in the pursuit of equality. Some might argue that a fight is upon the horizon for Bethune Cookman University’s solvency as its managerial forces determine who will be next in leading the beachside historically Black college against the backdrop of a tide of trouble. My own view is, Bethune Cookman University (BCU) requires a leader who has command of academic provocations; management of fleeting fiscal resources; brilliancy in donations development; and, I suspect, an uncommon skill–supervision of Dr. Mary Bethune’s legacy.

Make no mistake, BCU is in the midst of an existential crisis. Many have noted the symptoms of this salacious critical point. Others have documented the causes of the dilemma. I seek to enter the conversation in order to discuss how BCU should move forward. I do so under the veil and vision of Dr. King. It is important to consider King’s laudable leadership regarding his social justice advocacy. Though the circumstances that face BCU is intimidating, I often wonder how its stakeholders can acknowledge and apply King’s leadership. Could BCU harness the prophetic modernity of King’s work within the context of the ever-present opportunity to overcome challenges that pervade the Wildcat community; annihilate its a crewed achievements; or dismantle distinctions that have set BCU apart and moved the institution ahead?

As I consider King’s life’s work it forces me to question, what is the dream we have for Bethune Cookman University? I am torn between the shattered sacrifices of a woman that gave her all to ensure that, initially, little black girls could be formally educated juxtaposed to the modern realities of an academic establishment dedicated to educational equality. We see the triumph of Dr. Bethune’s sacrifice, yet the truth is her legacy is marred with nearly a decade’s worth of struggles. Suffice to say, BCU requires a vision that sustains and supports the sacrifices of such a celebrated founder.

The pride of those that want to ensure that the university’s legacy exists for generations to come can be accomplished. It is, therefore, with urgency that I put forward three points of view that I feel will serve as sources of inspiration for the Cookman contingency as it fights for the soul of its storied school.

There any many facts that exist about Bethune Cookman, what do you have faith for?

First, the good book specifically clarifies that we walk by faith and not by sight. In other words, the fortitude necessary for the way forward is a faith walk. Not to be confused with empty religious piety that bring(s) on powerless paralysis. A faith walk is about the ability to reflectively position one’s thoughts on what is best while having the reflexivity to move work in a direction where faith, causes an effect on facts.

Second, rid your institution of individuals who love Cookman but don’t have the knowledge, skills, or the expertise to guide a modern-day university into a successful learning metropolis. This goes above and beyond a call of action to denounce current leadership, or demonize board oversight. To the contrary, it is important to solicit the input of stakeholders to determine key characteristics needed to advance avenues for maneuvering Bethune’s last will and testament. The expectation is that Bethune Cookman University was founded for the enrichment of the community in which it resides. This is not to say that outside investigations, or reviews of administrative missteps won’t help the school, but rather fixing the institution will be the work of those who have the skills and stand in solidarity with the institution.

Finally, I take a different approach from the aforementioned prescriptive points to conclude with an inquiry. What kind of mindset will it take to overcome the obstacles observed? Bethune Cookman University is an educational powerhouse that has served its community for 115 years. As an empowerment agent, how will Wildcats challenge the structures that signal its demise while balancing transforming the school into a beacon of light and transitioning out of the

Jackson Era? I suspect that the answers to my questions will not come easy and the approach to my probe will require more than a strategic plan. Nevertheless, the present discourses present an opportunity to counter stratify and write a new narrative.

For many reading this article, the call to salvage the predicament facing Bethune Cookman University is profoundly personal. Current students love the school and benefit from its nurturing environment. Alumni relish in the reclamation of a campus culture that seeded their dreams and situated their destinies. No matter if you are faculty, student, staff, administrator or alumni, all believe in the power and promise of Bethune Cookman, including this FAMU Rattler. As I wrote earlier it is not enough to evoke an examination of the problem. It also not enough to practice a scorched earth framework pitting the tutelage of Mary’s legacy against each other. What is central to the work of Bethune Cookman’s forward march is a deep investigation of Dr. King’s work for which he questioned, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.” I look forward, to the community all Cookman Wildcats will build to dramatically curtail chaos.

Amanda Wilkerson is the director of the Urban Teaching Initiatives Project at the University of Central Florida in the College of Community Innovation and Education. Additionally, she has written educational materials and coordinated forums on significant social, pedagogical, and educational equity matters. Prolific social justice advocate and scholar, Dr. Wilkerson serves as guest editor for the Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals Journal-Hillard Sizemore Special Edition, and Co-Editor of From Student to Scholar: How Colleges of Education Mentor Underserved Doctoral Students; A project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Recently, Wilkerson served as the partnership committee chair for the Parramore Innovation Education District initiative. As a part of her passion for higher education, Amanda is enhancing how students seize the promise of a post-secondary education through access.

It’s Time to Put an End to HBCU Gatekeeping

brandy

Brandy Jones

“We can joke like that, but you can’t.”

Last year, I overheard friendly banter between three HBCU alumni about which HBCU is better Howard, Morehouse, or North Carolina Central University. I chuckled listening to my colleagues talk about institutions as if they were competitive sporting teams and sat quietly not sure how I could contribute to the conversation — having been a graduate of a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I watched as they compared homecomings and joked about the quality of entertainment that happened over the weekend of events that brought so many Black alumni together each year. As I giggled listening in, one of my colleagues looked to me and said clearly, “we can joke like that, but you can’t.” I was taken back by that statement and yet it provoked some thought.

My first job after graduating college was working for the first historically Black college, Cheyney University. And, although a couple of my family members and friends attended HBCUs, I had not experienced what it was like to attend a college with a mission that centers on my identity or to go to a school where people who looked like me made up more than 8% of the student population. I never attended a homecoming that was exciting or thrilling enough to return and never experienced going to class and being amongst the majority. The truth is I am an outsider.

That day was monumental for me because it allowed me to understand the invisible boundaries that have the potential to influence my work as someone who aspires to do higher education research and research particularly related to HBCUs. I experienced these gatekeepers at my first job at Cheyney; when I was considered untrustworthy because I had not attended an HBCU. I experienced it as a person working at a research center focused on highlighting institutions like HBCUs, which serve students of color and provide avenues of educational attainment for students — many who look just like me, come from low-income backgrounds, and whose parents never stepped foot on a college campus prior to graduation. I understand the hesitation to feel protective of HBCUs as they are hubs of culture and centers of Black excellence, yet have been underfunded, undersupported, and perceived as inferior institutions by many outsiders. I get it. I know and believe like many HBCU alumni that HBCUs must be protected at all costs.

I may not have attended an HBCU, primarily as a result of a lack of information as a first-generation college student, a desire to stay close to home, and because it was cheapest to go to my state’s flagship institution, but I am not the enemy. I am not here to penetrate any HBCU camaraderie nor claim to comprehend what the HBCU experience is like. I want to share the value and significance of these institutions having worked so closely with the students that these institutions have transformed. We must end this HBCU vs. PWI debate and build community regardless of the choice of your undergraduate institution. I may be an outsider, but I am not an adversary. In a country where the value of the educational institutions are under constant questioning and the HBCU list is dwindling, HBCUs (and their alumni) cannot continue to gatekeep who is able to advocate for these incredible institutions.

Brandy Jones is the Assistant Director for Communications at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also currently pursuing an M.S.Ed in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania.