(RNS) — The death of Bob Moses on Sunday (July 25) at age 86 should make anyone who dares meddle with Americans’ voting rights in this country pause. The life of the great educator and civil rights leader in Mississippi during the turbulent and violent 1960s reminds us that there may be no more noble cause and that it attracts powerful champions.
I met the 29-year-old Moses at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in February 1964, when I was a young rabbi serving Congregation B’Nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri. Like millions of Americans, I had been deeply moved months before by the huge civil rights rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the Lincoln Memorial.
In February 1964, the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City sent me to Hattiesburg as its official representative to participate in the interreligious Ministers’ Project, which included rabbis, Presbyterian pastors and Episcopal priests from all over the country. I spent a week in Mississippi supporting the town’s African Americans, who were cynically forced to take a detailed and lengthy test that only a constitutional scholar could pass, designed to systematically deprive them of their vote.
When the Hattiesburg voting rights drive began in January, only 12 out of 7,000 eligible Black voters were registered. By early April, the number had climbed to nearly 800.
The drive, based upon non-violent direct action, consisted of marching each morning for several hours with other clergy in front of the Forrest County Courthouse demanding an end to voter suppression. In the afternoons, we went from house to house, instructing Black residents on how to register despite the onerous restrictions that were placed on them. In the evenings, the rabbis and Christian clergy attended various Black churches where we heard stirring music, powerful sermons and again we offered assistance in voter registration.
On one of those nights, at Morning Star Baptist, Bob Moses got up to speak. A graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he had earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Harvard University, but, stirred by the civil rights movement, he had left his safe teaching position at Horace Mann, an elite private school in New York City, and traveled to Mississippi in 1960.
Moses soon became a prominent figure as the field secretary in the newly established voter registration group, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, popularly known as “Snick.”
By February of 1964, he had become a legend. He had been shot at as he rode in a car. He had been knifed in the head by a violent segregationist, and, because no white doctor would treat his wound, Moses had to be driven around until a Black physician was finally located and sewed nine stitches in his head.
Moses delivered a powerful, eloquent address that night at Morning Star. He had a professorial mien and communicated in a soft voice but spoke in powerful cadences about the fundamental American right to vote. Fifty-seven years later, the memory of Moses’ magnificent oration has the power to stir me.
The next year, Moses organized the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project that attracted many young volunteers, including two young Jewish men from New York City: Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who heeded Moses’ call to assist in registering Black voters.
That summer, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan, along with James Chaney, a young Black civil rights worker. Their killers were only brought to justice many years later.
Moses believed that a quality education was another necessity if we were to achieve a just and equitable society. In the 1980s, Moses organized “The Algebra Project,” whose goal was to help young Black students acquire skill in mathematics, a subject Moses discovered was greatly lacking for many African-American students.
When I returned to Kansas City, I wrote an article that appeared in the “Jewish Frontier,” a national magazine, about my Mississippi experiences. I concluded the piece with two predictions: There would be violence in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, and “total integration” would come to the United States within 10 years.
I was tragically correct about the potential for violence and much too optimistic about the end of racism in the United States. In those days, listening to men like Moses, it was possible to believe it.
May his memory and legacy always be an inspiration and a challenge for all Americans.
(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser and the author of “Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise.” He can be reached atjamesrudin.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Have you ever looked at your life and wondered how your needs would be met this week? Have you been in need of advice and not known where to turn? Have you ever wondered what your purpose is? How can you grow in your relationship with God?
The answer to all these questions is prayer. Many of us want to pray, but struggle to figure out how to pray which is the reason why Pastor John Hannah wrote his book: Just Pray: How a Life of Prayer Grows Unshakeable Faith which is now available everywhere and can be found here. UrbanFaith interviewed Pastor John Hannah about his new book Just Pray: How A Life Of Prayer Grows Unshakeable Faith. The full interview is linked above.
Prayer is a foundational part of every Christian’s life, it is literally the way we communicate with God. As we desire to grow in our relationship with God, we must learn how to pray in ways that are powerful and practical. Pastor Hannah leads prayer calls weekly with thousands of people, has spoken and taught on the subject of prayer for decades, and has decided to share his insights on why and how we can grow in our prayer life as foundational to a life of faith through this book.
About Pastor John Hannah
John F. Hannah is the founder and lead pastor of New Life Covenant Church Southeast. A speaker and author, he has impacted thousands of lives through his ministry and dedication to serve. Through his focused desire to teach people how to grow their relationship with God, Pastor Hannah has become renowned for his commitment to prayer. Because of his heart for people, Hannah has traveled the globe speaking in regions of Jiji, Australia, and South Africa and even shared multiple media and conference platforms with acclaimed faith-based leaders Bishop T.D. Jakes and Steve Harvey. He has been married to Anna Hannah for over twenty-five years.
Felicity Brown, 9, uses a workbook to practice math with her parents and siblings at home in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. After homeschooling during the pandemic, the Brown family has switched to homeschooling their kids permanently using a Catholic-based curriculum and won’t be sending them back to in-person schools in the fall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Although the pandemic disrupted family life across the U.S. since taking hold in spring 2020, some parents are grateful for one consequence: They’re now opting to homeschool their children, even as schools plan to resume in-person classes.
The specific reasons vary widely. Some families who spoke with The Associated Press have children with special educational needs; others seek a faith-based curriculum or say their local schools are flawed. The common denominator: They tried homeschooling on what they thought was a temporary basis and found it beneficial to their children.
“That’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic — I don’t think we would have chosen to homeschool otherwise,” said Danielle King of Randolph, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Zoë thrived with the flexible, one-on-one instruction. Her curriculum has included literature, anatomy, even archaeology, enlivened by outdoor excursions to search for fossils.
The surge has been confirmed by the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported in March that the rate of households homeschooling their children rose to 11% by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4% just six months earlier.
Black households saw the largest jump; their homeschooling rate rose from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall.
The parents in one of those households, Arlena and Robert Brown of Austin, Texas, had three children in elementary school when the pandemic took hold. After experimenting with virtual learning, the couple opted to try homeschooling with a Catholic-oriented curriculum provided by Seton Home Study School, which serves about 16,000 students nationwide.
The Browns plan to continue homeschooling for the coming year, grateful that they can tailor the curriculum to fit their children’s distinctive needs. Jacoby, 11, has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and sometimes needs naps during the day; Riley, 10, has tested as academically gifted; Felicity, 9, has a learning disability.
“I didn’t want my kids to become a statistic and not meet their full potential,” said Robert Brown, a former teacher who now does consulting. “And we wanted them to have very solid understanding of their faith.”
Arlena Brown, who gave birth to a fourth child 10 months ago, worked as a preschool teacher before the pandemic. Homeschooling, she says, has been a rewarding adventure.
“In the beginning, the biggest challenge was to unschool ourselves and understand that homeschooling has so much freedom,” she said. “We can go as quickly or slowly as we need to.”
Felicity Brown, 9, draws as she takes a break from math practice at her home in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. After homeschooling during the pandemic, the Brown family have switched to homeschooling their kids permanently using a Catholic-based curriculum and won’t be sending them back to in-person schools this fall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Race played a key role in the decision by another African American family to homeschool their 12-year-old son, Dorian.
Angela Valentine said Dorian was often the only Black student in his classes at a suburban Chicago public school, was sometimes treated unfairly by administrators, and was dismayed as other children stopped playing with him.
As the pandemic eased, the family decided to keep Dorian at home and teach him there, using a curriculum provided by National Black Home Educators that provides content for each academic subject pertaining to African American history and culture.
“I felt the burden of making the shift, making sure we’re making the right choices,” Valentine said. “But until we’re really comfortable with his learning environment, we’ll stay on this homeschool journey.”
Charmaine Williams, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Baldwin, also is using the National Black Home Educators curriculum as she homeschools her 10-year-old son, Justin, and 6-year-old daughter, Janel.
Williams said she and her husband tried two previous stints of homeschooling for Justin after school officials complained about his behavior. Now — with the new curriculum and an accompanying support network — they feel more confident about choosing it as a long-term option.
“At school, children have to follow a certain pattern, and there’s bullying, belittling — compared to being home where they’re free to be themselves,” Williams said.
“There’s no turning back for us now,” she added. “The pandemic has been a blessing — an opportunity to take ownership of our children’s education.”
Lily Osgood, 7, selects a book to read from the family library of nearly 2,000 books she shares with her brother, Noah, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Fairfax, Vt. The Osgood children will continue to be homeschool this upcoming school year. As the pandemic took hold across the United States in the spring of 2020, it brought disruption and anxiety to most families. Yet some parents are grateful for one consequence: they are now opting to homeschool their children even as schools plan to resume in-person classes. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Joyce Burges, co-founder and program director of National Black Home Educators, said the 21-year-old organization had about 5,000 members before the pandemic and now has more than 35,000.
Many of the new families experienced difficulties, including lack of internet access, that limited their children’s ability to benefit from virtual learning during the pandemic, Burges said.
“It got so they didn’t trust anything but their own homes, and their children being with them,” she said. “Now they’re seeing the future — seeing what their children can do.”
For some families, the switch to homeschooling was influenced by their children’s special needs. That’s the case for Jennifer Osgood of Fairfax, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Lily has Down syndrome.
Having observed Lily’s progress with reading and arithmetic while at home during the pandemic, Osgood is convinced homeschooling is the best option for her going forward.
She has made the same decision for her 12-year-old son Noah, who didn’t like the remote classes offered by his public school in the spring of 2020, and did homeschooling throughout the 2020-21 school year. It went so well that they want to continue for at least a few more years.
“He told me he was learning so much more at home than he ever did in school,” Osgood recalled. “He said, ‘School is just so chaotic — we don’t get very much done in any particular class. Here, I sit down, you tell me what to do, and minutes later I’m done.'”
Heather Pray of Phoenix, Maryland, says homeschooling has been a major success for her 7-year-old son, Jackson, who has autism. The family made the switch because Jackson was struggling with the virtual learning that his school provided during the pandemic.
“My son did great (with homeschooling), even with just two hours of schoolwork a day,” Pray said. “I got him into piano lessons, taught him to read.”
Pray is also homeschooling her daughter, Hayley, who’s going into 7th grade and had been attending a Christian school.
“I had no idea how this was going to go — I just dove in headfirst,” said Pray. “I felt God was holding my hand.”
The Gonzalez family from Appomattox, Virginia — who are devout Catholics — opted to homeschool their three sons, ages 9, 13 and 15, after their Catholic school in Lynchburg closed in 2020 due to falling enrollment.
They’re using the Catholic-focused curriculum from Seton Home Study School, which Jennifer Gonzalez, the boys’ mom, described as rigorous but well-organized.
“My kids have just excelled,” she said. “We’re able to be home and be together.”
(RNS) — Just-retired Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie is an apologist for an adaptive style of leadership. It’s what has helped her succeed as the first woman to hold many roles in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. And it’s a style of leadership she said was needed during the pandemic.
“Adaptive leadership means that you are faced with situations but do not have a solution or answer that comes from past experiences, so you have to adapt,” she said in an interview on Thursday (July 15), a week after her retirement began at the close of her denomination’s General Conference in Orlando, Florida.
“You have to know how to pivot, you have to step back, get on the balcony, survey the scene, throw out what you know or what you think you know and then find the answer that’s going to fit this issue right here.”
McKenzie, who remains the national chaplain of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, acknowledged this approach appeals to her because that’s the way she’s lived her life as a female trailblazer in her 205-year-old denomination. In 2000, McKenzie was the first woman elected bishop and later the first to serve as president of its Council of Bishops and chair of the General Conference Commission, which organizes the denomination’s quadrennial meeting.
Now one of five women bishops elected in the AME Church, McKenzie remains ready to answer anyone who questions their ability to lead.
“Do I think women can do this? Yes,” she said. “Do I think women are called to this? Yes. Do I think the women that have been elected in my denomination have done an exceptional job? Absolutely.”
As she led AME regional districts in Africa, Tennessee and Texas, McKenzie said she focused on her work rather than her title, letting the results speak for themselves. She modeled holding babies with AIDS to show it was safe and proved it was worthwhile to develop church websites to help attract new members and it was practical to use golf tournaments as fundraisers for church projects and seminary scholarships.
As she spoke at the conclusion of the General Conference bishops’ retirement service on July 9, she thanked her husband, former NBA guard Stan McKenzie (the first male episcopal supervisor of missionary work in the AME Church), her denomination and God for their support.
“What God did for me is evidence of what God can do for you,” she said. “For if God could do this, God can do what God promises you. That can be done no matter who says it can’t be.”
McKenzie, 74, talked with Religion News Service about her journey as a female bishop, those who paved the way for her to reach that role, and what’s next for her and for her denomination.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, center, outgoing pastor of Payne Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, bids longtime member Helen Thorton farewell on her last Sunday at the church in Sept. 2000. At left is her husband, Stan McKenzie. Photo by Carl Bower
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Looking back as the first woman bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is there a way you would sum up your experience since 2000?
Being the first of anything, there is no book. There is no DVD. There’s no movie. There’s nobody in front of you, to be able to share back experiences of what it’s going to look like and feel like and be like and so you’re charting your own way. And as people receive you — not only as you are in your position but also receive you as a human being — and begin to see you have something to bring to the table and be able to embrace the uniqueness of my femininity. I do what bishops have to do, but I don’t do them in the same way because I’m Vashti.
Your family has long been in the journalism business, running the Afro American newspaper chain. You wrote newspaper articles starting at age 16 and as bishop you oversaw denominational publications including The Christian Recorder. What was it like to move from being in the news business to becoming a newsmaker?
It was a little bit different being on the other side of the microphone, the other side of the camera and on the other side of the notepad, really, because I grew up telling some other people’s stories. And then the shift comes where then you become the story. And so, my intention was not to have my episcopal career be about me. That my episcopal career would be about the people I serve. So I was intentional, to focus on the work, rather than the first. God didn’t just call me to be first. God called me to do the work. And so that’s what I focused on in each of the districts I served.
You mentioned in the “Echoes from the General Conference” documentary that, though 2000 was a turning point for women bishops, it was preceded by earlier actions. What and/or who paved the way?
Well, many, many women. Many women whose names were not written, who did not get a footnote, who were in the margins. Faces and names people have forgotten a long time ago. Beginning with Jarena Lee. Jarena Lee stood at her time, when Bishop Richard Allen says he’s not going to license women. But God created an opportunity and she stood, and so then off she goes to walking and preaching hundreds of miles.
Elizabeth Scott ran for the episcopacy for many, many, many years. The women who were appointed presiding elders, the women who were appointed pastors, and did fabulous work because if they didn’t, then they would never give another woman a chance.
The 2021 episcopal address, the message of the bishops to the denomination during the General Conference, spoke of longtime struggles for women to gain ordination, and the rank of bishop. What action do you think is needed still?
What seems to be difficult for the church at large — and I’m talking about the universal church, denominations at large — is the inability of embracing inclusivity, as far as women is concerned. Just because you’re at the table, doesn’t mean it’s success for all women. Just because there’s one presiding elder, one woman who is a bishop, doesn’t mean the playing field is level for all women. And so in order for that to happen, we have to be intentional, and intentional means you don’t promote or assign just because a woman is a woman. You recognize her gifts. When I ran, I didn’t run on a platform saying elect me because I’m a woman. I ran on a platform that says elect me because I’m qualified.
Was there something you’re particularly proud of achieving in ecumenical or interfaith circles?
Most of my ministry is focused within the AME Church but I preach everywhere. I have preached for the Presbyterian women, the Baptist women. I preached for the Hampton (University) Ministers’ Conference with denominations from all over, for the United Methodist Church, for the United Methodist annual conferences. And in that way, sharing prophetically also helps to shape people’s embracing women. I have preached at Catholic churches. I have spoken in Jewish communities.
I have preached in seminaries, and it’s so important for the female seminarians to be able to see someone who is their same gender, who has the same kind of uniqueness, as an encouragement to see the broader picture, to see ministry beyond your own front door.
The AME Church has voted to start an ad hoc committee on LGBTQ matters. Do you think it may be turning a corner about acceptance of LGBTQ people, just as the denomination turned a corner on women bishops 21 years ago?
I think dialogue is going to be good for the church because there are different people in different places having different kinds of conversations and to be able to have open conversation, which an ad hoc committee would provide, where the church is gathered, will be healthy and may be helpful.
Do you see an end to the ban on same-sex marriage?
I think we’re going to have to wait and see the conversation, the power of the conversation. I just think it’s just too hard to predict at this moment. We have to remember the church, the broader church, has a hard time dealing with racism. Church, period, had a hard time dealing with sexism. They have a hard time dealing with agism, classism. And now, this is the next wrestle. And after this wrestle, there’ll be another, and there’ll be another, and there’ll be another, and there’ll be another.
So now that you have reached retirement as an AME bishop, what’s next for you?
I’m going to continue with Selah (Leadership Encounters for Women, her professional women’s empowerment organization) because I have a passion for leadership. I plan to write. This is a good time to sit down and put some thoughts down on paper. And then, as they say, we’ll look into the horizon to see what also is next.
This story has been corrected to clarify that the African Methodist Episcopal Church has a ban on same-sex marriage. It does not have a ban on ordination of LGBTQ persons.
Summer is in full swing, and people all across the country have fired up their grills, purchased their summer wardrobes, and started traveling. For Black folks, summer often means family reunions (especially after the pandemic lockdown), barbecues (cookouts/kickbacks/get-togethers/BBQs), and finding things for the kids to do (like sports, activities, or playing outside). We all look forward to summer vacations, summer hours, and summer…denominational general conferences?
For whatever reason (probably the pandemic), 2021 has been the year of many denominational general conferences when the saints of God have gathered together to elect new leadership, hear inspiring teaching, and debate church policy. Some people are not looking forward to these conferences every few years, and many believers don’t even know they are happening. A lot of us don’t even have denominations to host conferences, and we’re fortunate if our church leadership gets together with other leaders to decide how to more effectively love God and love people.
But more than ever, people are actually hearing about these conferences, usually because of controversy. We have heard everything from debates about same sex marriage to whether systemic racism is real. We have seen rejoicing and anxiety over the appointment of new leaders, reports of how to handle abuse and instructions on how to handle finances. And many Christians ask, why are we having these conferences? Why are these issues being debated? Why aren’t we just doing what the Bible says?
Well, we are actually doing exactly what the Bible says. The Bible is where we find the church resolving debates over contemporary issues and developing administration together in Acts 6, the commissioning of Barnabas and Paul (Saul) in Acts 13, and the first church-wide conference at Jerusalem in Acts 15. At that conference, the Gospel was articulated for Gentiles. Plus, we see Apollos teaching right doctrine after meeting with Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18. There is no law in scripture for every situation, especially as the world changes and God continues calling us to follow Him. We need a relationship with God and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they could keep the letter of the law perfectly and had no need for God’s Spirit to lead them.
In the Old Testament, we read that before any major decisions were made, the kings of Israel sought wise counsel–not just as advice–but as wisdom from collaboration. The prophets, priests, and advisors would weigh in, and they would all pray to receive God’s wisdom for leadership. In the New Testament, we read that the apostles and elders were accountable to the community of believers and met together to pray and seek God’s guidance and receive instruction for the churches they led. None of these people were perfect.n the contrary, God met them with wisdom in the midst of their flaws.
We should continue to value church conferences and approach them with honor and hope. We cannot take for granted that many believers across the world cannot gather together publicly in general, let alone in large conferences. We should embrace and celebrate our opportunities to do so. If God was able to show up with wisdom for believers in the Bible, we know that despite our flaws and problems, God can show up for us with wisdom as well.
FILE – In this July 6, 2021, file photo, an electronic signboard welcomes people to the Howard University campus in Washington. With the surprise twin hiring of two of the country’s most prominent writers on race, Howard University is positioning itself as one of the primary centers of Black academic thought just as America struggles through a painful crossroads over historic racial injustice. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — With the surprise twin hiring of two of the country’s most prominent writers on race, Howard University is positioning itself as one of the primary centers of Black academic thought just as America struggles through a painful crossroads over historic racial injustice.
But then, Howard University has never exactly been low-profile.
For more than a century, the predominantly Black institution in the nation’s capital has educated generations of Black political and cultural leaders. Among them: Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, civil rights icon Stokely Carmichael, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and Vice President Kamala Harris.
But even by those standards, the school has been on a hot streak lately, with new funding streams, fresh cultural relevancy and high-profile faculty additions. This past week’s hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates serves as confirmation that Howard intends to dive neck-deep into America’s divisive racial debate.
FILE – In this July 6, 2021, file photo Nikole Hannah-Jones is interviewed at her home in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Hannah-Jones opted against teaching at the University of North Carolina after a protracted tenure fight centered on conservative objections to her work and instead chose Howard University, where she will hold the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Hannah-Jones opted against teaching at the University of North Carolina after a protracted tenure fight centered on conservative objections to her work and instead chose Howard, where she will hold the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. She rose to fame with The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which reframed U.S. history through a racial equity lens and helped mainstream the idea of critical race theory — a topic that has become a core Republican talking point.
FILE – In this Nov. 21, 2019 file photo, author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. This past week’s hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones and Coates serves as confirmation that Howard University intends to dive neck-deep into America’s divisive racial debate. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Coates has written critically on U.S. race relations for years and is closely associated with the argument for reparations for slavery.
Howard’s president, Wayne Frederick, doesn’t characterize either hiring as overtly political, but merely a natural extension of the university’s motivating ethos.
“Howard University has been on that caravan for social justice for about 154 years,” Frederick said in an interview. “Howard has a rich legacy. … My responsibility is to contemporize that and to bring faculty to the university who are in the contemporary space, speaking to present-day issues.”
Columbia University journalism professor Jelani Cobb, a Howard alumnus, described the moves as a pivotal jump in the university’s national stature. Howard, he said, had gone from traditionally “punching above its weight class” to “moving up a whole division.”
All this is just a few years removed from a period of internal tension and financial scandal. In 2018, six employees were fired amid revelations of more than $350,000 in misappropriated grant funding, and students staged a nine-day occupation of the administration building over demands that included better housing and an end to tuition increases.
But even amid those problems, Howard has seen a boost in applications and enrollment as more Black students choose to attend historically Black colleges and universities. “I do think that we’re seeing a renaissance, and that that’s driven by the students more than the parents,” said Noliwe Rooks, chair of Africana studies at Brown University. Rooks attended Spelman, an all-female HBCU in Atlanta.
Howard University Student Association President Kylie Burke, left, introduces Vice President Kamala Harris to the podium to speaks about voting rights at Howard University in Washington, Thursday, July 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Vice President Harris returned to Howard days after the hirings were announced. Speaking at a news conference on a voters’ rights initiative sponsored by the Democratic National Committee, she received a rapturous welcome from a packed house that supplied church-style “amens” and burst into applause when she called Howard “a very important part of why I stand before you at this moment as vice president of the United States of America.”
For current students, the school’s rising profile is a confirmation of their choice to attend “The Mecca” — one of Howard’s many nicknames.
“There’s something truly intangible about this university,” said Kylie Burke, a political science major and president of the Howard Student Association, who introduced Harris at the event. Like Harris, Burke came from Northern California to attend Howard, and she served as a legislative fellow in Harris’ office when she was a senator. “Howard teaches you a thing about grit, it teaches you to remain focused, it teaches you to be persistent,” Burke said.
The hirings capped a dizzying stretch for Howard.
FILE – In this July 6, 2021, file photo with the Founders Library in the background, people walk along the Howard University campus in Washington. With the surprise twin hiring of two of the country’s most prominent writers on race, Howard University is positioning itself as one of the primary centers of Black academic thought just as America struggles through a painful crossroads over historic racial injustice. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Within the past year, Harris was elected vice president; MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $40 million; and actor Phylicia Rashad returned to her alma mater as dean of the newly independent College of Fine Arts. That college will be named after the late Chadwick Boseman, a Howard graduate whose role as African superhero Black Panther made him an instant icon and shined a fresh cultural spotlight on the school.
Boseman expressed his love for the university in a 2018 commencement speech, calling it “a magical place.” He cited one of the school’s more modern nicknames, “Wakanda University,” a reference to the movie’s technologically advanced African utopia.
Although there’s rising interest across the HBCU network, Cobb said Howard will always attract a particular demographic of Black student such as Harris with an interest in politics and governance. The school has produced members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries and mayors. One of Cobb’s undergraduate classmates was Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
Rooks said Hannah-Jones’ move could have ripple effects throughout academia.
Traditionally, Rooks said, Black academics were drawn to predominantly white universities because that’s where the funding and the prestige lay. But Hannah-Jones didn’t just bring her reputation; she also brought nearly $20 million in funding.
“It’s a whole other thing when you become the benefactor,” Rooks said. “We all learn how to behave, how to act, in the presence of power. If you’re the power and it’s your money, you’ve taken a whole racial dynamic off the table.”
Still, Howard’s rising prominence does bring the risk that it will overshadow smaller HBCUs. Rooks said Howard and a handful of other big names such as Morehouse, Spelman and Hampton dominate the headlines and the funding. She said, half-jokingly, that most Black American students couldn’t name more than 12 of the 107 HBCUs in the country.
One possible example of the phenomenon: In 2019, NBA star Steph Curry donated an undisclosed amount to allow Howard to launch Division I men’s and women’s golf teams, and fund them for six years. Curry was raised in North Carolina, home to 10 active HBCUs, and holds no particular connection to Howard.
The HBCU world still boils down to “five or six schools that really attract a lot of attention,” Rooks said, and dozens of others that are “desperate for funding.”
Howard’s recent fortune, she said, is “not necessarily going to raise all the boats.”
Associated Press writer Hilary Powell contributed to this report.
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