When I first relocated to Atlanta in 2009, I repeatedly heard about the financial struggles at Morris Brown College (MBC) and little else of its reputation in the news. But as I settled into my new home and made acquaintances, I found myself more likely to encounter alumni of Morris Brown than any of the HBCUs of the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC). My attorney friend, my husband’s barber, the barber’s twin brother, a couple of fellow vanpool riders, an ex-corporate America coworker of mine, and a smattering of entrepreneurs were all proud attendees of Morris Brown.
Each one spoke of their alma mater with total adoration. They also were constantly active in raising money for the school, participating in campus clean ups and doing everything in their power to support the ongoing existence and success of the school. I sat down with class of 1997 Journalism graduate Tod Rose to find out why the love for Morris Brown is so deep.
“The alumni of any school feel a lifelong kindship for sure. But, with Morris Brown, there is a deep history unshared by any of the other schools in the AUC and few other HBCUs,” said Rose, a Search Engine Marketing Manager with YP. “Morris Brown was founded entirely by Blacks for Blacks in 1881. This alone sets it apart from most other HBCUs and serves as a galvanizing factor for former students. Secondly, Morris Brown had an open door policy which granted anyone who wanted to learn the opportunity to earn a college degree. This is very special because it gave thousands of people the opportunity to attend college and earn degrees.”
Named in honor of Morris Brown, a free Black man who was one of the founders of Charleston’s famed Emanuel AME Church and who went onto become the second bishop of the oldest independent Protestant denomination founded by African Americans , the college was also completely funded by African Americans via the AME church—unlike Morehouse, Spelman, Clark or Atlanta University. The AME church’s goal in creating the school was to provide “an educational institution in Atlanta for the moral, spiritual and intellectual growth of Negro boys and girls.” Motivated to attend an HBCU by a homegrown hunger for his culture and knowledge of his roots, Rose had the opportunity to attend Morris Brown when he received a full Navy ROTC scholarship out of high school.
“I qualified based on my four years of participation through high school and some great connections,” said the Atlantan who originally hails from Southern Georgia. “I started as a double-major, electrical engineering and physics. However, after my ears began smoking following a calculus test that I struggled to make a C on, it became clear to me that I should stick with my gifts: talking and writing.”
During our conversation, Rose shared with me several anecdotes about his time at the university, lifelong friends he met, support he received from faculty, and the confidence he acquired which empowered him to actively pursue anything he dared to dream.
“Being in the presence of fellow Blacks was indeed like being around distant cousins at a family reunion. There was always an air of acceptance and camaraderie among the student body above fraternity affiliation and representing your state. We all shared a common ancestry which consciously and subconsciously bound all of us.”
And just from the care and compassion in his voice, I could see exactly why MBC continues to rise from the ashes of financial instability and the loss of accreditation it suffered in 2002. Its alumni are an integral part of why the institution is still looking onward and upward.
“I remain hopeful that the right circumstances will allow MBC to become relevant again. Currently the school has about 60 students and the alumni are committed to helping. My fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inca., has been consistently raising money for the school along with other organizations and we’re planning to heighten the fundraising efforts in the near future.”
I personally can’t count how many times I’ve been invited to an alumni fundraiser held for MBC or asked to volunteer on campus in some capacity. My husband, an alum of Xavier University of Louisiana, has even participated in local Xavier alumni efforts to support MBC.
Rose explained this willingness and rallying of efforts even outside of MBC alumni circles to aid the school, “We can all understand how vitally important it is to preserve such a rich piece of American and African American history.” Morris Brown also expresses its foothold in the Atlanta landscape by remaining an active participant in social affairs such as the Juneteenth Festival it is holding on its campus this very weekend. And this is also why, like so many others, Rose’s faith in the continued existence of the school has not waned.
“I would encourage a young person considering their college choices to choose Morris Brown. Also, I would encourage them to keep an open mind regarding Morris Brown’s most recent and distant history. I would encourage them to take on a major of study in an area needed by the school that can help to galvanize support for the school.”
MBC currently offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Business Administration, Organizational Management and Leadership and General Studies. The school also offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in General studies. For more information about Morris Brown College, visit their website here.
What do you think it would take to revive the campus of Morris Brown?