Who ya’ gonna believe, baby: me or your lyin’ eyes?
If you’ve ever been caught in flagrante delicto – also known, according to the prophet Z.Z. Hill, as cheatin’ in the next room – you’ve asked that question.
I asked it in a different context and, to my chagrin and embarrassment, I believed my lyin’ eyes.
For the past several years, you see, every trip to Atlanta has included a drive through my old neighborhood. To drive through there, one must drive past Morris Brown College. It’s a sobering, heart-rending visage, the 134-year-old, once-vibrant college built for the children of former slaves by former slaves and named after a free black man who helped start the first AME church: buildings crumbling or boarded up, cracked sidewalks with weeds pushing up through them, desolate.
Morris Brown’s survival has been on life support for years, and that, combined with the post-apocalyptic appearance one sees from the street, led me to assume in a column last week that the school had shuttered its doors.
You know what they say happens when you “assume,” right?
The school hasn’t closed, and I’m delighted to be wrong. Rumors of its death have been exaggerated. Not greatly – it had fewer than 60 students, according to a 2012 story, and no one to answer the phone there to correct that report for the week that I called – but exaggerated, nonetheless.
In an otherwise celebratory column about the collaboration between the N.C. A&T and UNC-Chapel Hill marching bands earlier this month, I related a story about how bad – that’s good in hepcat talk – Morris Brown’s band used to be, so bad that its members used to could drop their instruments onto the ground and simply groove on the atmosphere.
I wrote, “Of course, Morris Brown’s band has no instruments now. Hell, Morris Brown has no university: it closed because, in part, the alumni who were digging its band didn’t support it. HBCUs, you see, in addition to having great bands, also usually have money woes.”
I apologize to Morris Brown for the premature obit, but not for pointing out the dire financial struggles of so many HBCUs.
One can’t think of the financial struggles of historially black colleges and universities without thinking of the successful black people who could help them if they wanted to. Take Dr. Dre.
Please. The founding member of NWA and billionaire co-founder of Beats Electronic in 2013 gave $35 million to the University of Southern California. His partner, Jimmy Iovine, gave the same amount.
Of course, Iovine’s daughter is an alum of USC, so his decision to contribute is understandable; Dre has no connection except he grew up near its campus.
Man, can you imagine what $35 million could’ve done for Morris Brown College? Or what it could’ve done had he merely sliced that amount of cheddar and spread it among several HBCUs?
Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, asked that question in an op-ed piece he wrote two years ago and when I spoke with him last week.
“Of course, you had some people saying, ‘Don’t criticize him; it’s his money.’ I said that, anyway,” Kimbrough stated when I asked how his column had been received. “One of the things we need to figure out is ‘How do we get connected to people with that kind of wealth and get them to think differently about their philanthropy?’”
That’s a good question, because in an interview I read in which Dr. Dre was asked why he hadn’t donate $35 million to black colleges whose students are likely most responsible for his success, he answered that none asked him.
Asking, Kimbrough said, “can be difficult if you don’t run in those circles. I can’t just write a cold letter to Dr. Dre and say ‘I’m the president of Dillard University. I need $35 million.’ ”
Dang it, he should be able to do that – or to at least write 100,000 people and say he needs $35.
What did Dr. Dre’s $35 million mean to USC?
Not much. USC has a $3.5 billion endowment, more than every HBCU combined, so Dre’s contribution was the philanthropic equivalent of pouring a cup of water into the Pacific Ocean.
So, since recently emerging from bankruptcy, is Morris Brown now hale and hearty?
Not even close, but as long as the school has a heartbeat, perhaps the flame of pride that allowed us to survive in a strange land will re-ignite and allow us to come to our senses – and begin re-investing in our own institutions before they’re all gone.