Midtown Muse: Brothers send brothers to college

08/01/2014 6:17 PM

08/01/2014 6:19 PM

1 church + 80 men = 1 student + 1 HBCU.

Forget the math. This is an equation about pulling together and digging deep to make a difference.

It’s the formula Christian Faith Baptist Church uses to ease the plight of African-American males, struggling Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and communities buckling under any fallout.

Next month, Men Investing in Education, a project of the Christian Faith Men’s Ministry, will award its second $20,000 scholarship to an African-American male student enrolled at an HBCU.

The first scholarship check found Jordan Davis, a junior math major at North Carolina Central University.

“It was a wonderful feeling,” said Jordan, 20, who learned he’d won the scholarship when his family was home in Smithfield-Selma, trying to find a way to pay $1,000 not covered by the honor student’s financial aid and another scholarship. “It couldn’t have been better timing.”

Jordan hopes other churches recognize Christian Faith’s lead. “Anywhere there are HBCUs, there are churches that can bless a child just like Christian Faith did me,” he said.

Over six months, the men’s ministry contributed $23,000 in offerings for the inaugural scholarship – with $3,000 banked toward this year’s award. Named in honor two members - retired physician George Debnam and long-time educator the late James Earp, the scholarship goes to a male student studying either education or a STEM discipline in science, technology, engineering or math. And, no, he need not be a member of Christian Faith. Instead, schools recommend scholarship candidates.

“We understand HBCUs in general are struggling and we’re also aware that the enrollment of African-American males at HBCUs is lacking,” said the Rev. Kenneth D. Cooper, pastor of Christian Faith. “That’s bothersome to me as a black male and as a pastor, so we’re trying to do all that we can as a church to have an impact on African-American males and, at the same time, impact colleges and universities. The way to do that is to assure and assist someone at the collegiate level.”

It ought to be a more familiar story, considering black churches birthed many HBCUs to educate slaves emancipated after the Civil War. By the early 20th Century, there were about 33 institutions. Despite a history of low funding and other inequities compared to white schools, HBCUs sprouted to 77 by 1927. By the early 60s, HBCUs enrolled about 70 percent of all black college students.

But under Brown v. Board of Education, HBCU enrollment waned to 36 percent by the late 60s and to 17 percent by 1976, forcing many to close and highlighting the struggle of all. We need only recall recent problems at St. Augustine’s University to believe the number is lower and struggles abound, despite a resurgence of HBCU enrollment during the 80s and 90s.

“As African-American churches, it would be a shame if we don’t come together and do something to help young black males and to help our HBCUs,” Cooper said. “We should be in partnership with every HBCU and, if you can do more, then do more; but we all can do something.”

Of the nation’s 106 HBCUs, North Carolina is home to 11, followed by 10 in Georgia. Alabama tops the list with 15. “It’s our goal that it will be recorded in (106) years of our history that Christian Faith gave $20,000 to all (106) HBCUs,” Cooper said.

Like the church-based beginnings of Midtown’s Shaw and St. Augustine’s universities, NCCU was started in 1909 as a religious training school. The school’s ongoing partnership with Christian Faith, via Jordan’s matriculation, is a welcomed return to those roots. It’s a holistic approach of funding and mentorship that buttresses university retention efforts, said Randal V. Childs, NCCU’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement.

“It’s extremely important for an institution like ours because those were very strong linkages, back in the day,” Childs said. “But we have not always kept those links strong.”

The Rev. James Williams, chairman of the church’s men’s ministry envisions the project to spread into “a cadre of students who can learn from and support one another.

“It’s a very simple concept: self-sufficiency and self-determination shows what we can do as a people if we just do it,” Williams said. “Education can turn a young man’s life around, and not only benefit him, but also his children and grandchildren.”

When Jordan showed up to receive the scholarship, he expected $3,000.

“Finding out it was actually $20,000 – enough to cover the rest of my stay at NCCU, just blew my mind,” Jordan said. “It takes the pressure off; wondering, how I’m going to pay for school or loans.

“Now, I just want to prove to the men at Christian Faith that I’m deserving; their help wasn’t in vain.”

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