By Andrew Young
Atlanta is known for its important role in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, the city is historically linked to several HBCUs. One landmark in our city that many have forgotten is Morris Brown College. In 1881, 141 years ago, Morris Brown College was founded at Big Bethel AME Church by freed slaves. It is the only school in Georgia founded, funded, owned, and operated by Black people.
In 2002, shortly after being featured in the film Drumline, Morris Brown College lost its accreditation due to financial mismanagement by its then leader.The college appealed but eventually lost in spring 2003. The President at the time was accused of misappropriating millions of dollars and indicted on 27 charges, but in 2006 pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement — essentially admitting she defrauded about $11,000 (misappropriating student financial aid) to cover administrative costs at the college. The loss of accreditation crippled the institution. Astonishing to me, even without accreditation, never once since its founding has this national treasure closed its doors. It’s a story of resilience and grit.
With the loss of accreditation, the college went from 2700 to approximately 50 students. Over the years, the college filed chapter 11 bankruptcy, lost most of its land, settled a 9.5 million debt owed to the US Department of Education, and recently settled a 4.2 million debt with the AME church.
Most had given up on the college, however, after a little over three years of industrious restructuring under its new President, Kevin James, Morris Brown College secured state approval by the Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission and accreditation candidacy status by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). The institution came into compliance with the standards and criteria to be deemed a quality institution. The school was evaluated by an on-site peer review team which determined that the institution provided sound instruction and appropriate student services. The college became eligible to apply to the U.S. Department of Education to participate in financial aid programs and Title IV funding, which was restored in December 2021, after almost 20 years.
Such funding was desperately needed to support the students and the overall mission of the college. I am pleased to know that the institution is one of the most affordable in Georgia. Morris Brown College just made history!
Atlanta needs to support President Kevin James who leads as the Chief Executive Officer and is responsible for the leadership and management of all aspects of college operations. He is also responsible for the development and execution of the vision and strategic direction for the college. I first met President James through our work with the 100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc. In 2017, he was named Mentor of the Year.
Morris Brown has proven they are serious about full restoration. Recently the institution announced a$30 million hotel to be built through a partnership with Hilton Hotels Worldwide and CGI Merchant Group.
The hotel will be located on the college’s campus that will provide hospitality students with direct training in the hotel and restaurants industries. Morris Brown is the only HBCU in Georgia with this degree program. The impact of tourism on Georgia’s economy supported more than 410,000 jobs across the state and created a total economic impact of $53.72 billion in 2020. This training will directly impact Atlanta’s economy as this city leads in tourism. This focus of providing a direct pipeline of black and brown talent to work and lead in tourism should not be overlooked.
Moreover, Morris Brown has created a new degree program in Esports Performance through its Business Department under two tracks-a bachelor program in Global Management and Applied Leadership with a concentration in Esports Performance, and an eight-course certificate in Esports Performance.
This new and exciting program will attract, engage, and motivate gamers of all ages including high school juniors and seniors wanting advanced credits. The institution intends to partner with surrounding school districts to offer the certificate to high school students who will graduate with up to 24 college credits in Esports.
Again, Morris Brown will immediately impact the city by providing a pipeline to an industry whose only major issue is its lack of diversity in management and leadership. The lack of diversity has sparked debate within Esports. Enrolled students at Morris Brown will explore how Esports is connected to the global marketplace and how to profit within this billion-dollar industry.
Additionally, students will learn to integrate the knowledge obtained throughout the program to plan, manage, and execute real-world Esports projects.The institution has already partnered with Hawks Talon Gaming, the official NBA 2KLeague affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks, Pharaoh’s Conclave, Axis Replay, and Cxmmunity which are local Esports industry leaders.
History has been made at Morris Brown College through a grassroots movement that President Kevin James calls “The Hard Reset.” The college is the first HBCU to be restored after a 20-year hiatus. The students at Morris Brown College are fully engaged in the learning process, entrepreneurial in spirit and proud to be part of a longstanding tradition of academic distinction. The resilient spirit of our ancestors is evident at Morris Brown and it is time that the city of Atlanta fully stands by and supports Morris Brown College and its new administration.
Andrew Young is a world-renowned civil rights leader whose work is widely credited with helping change the course of history. He has been mayor of Atlanta, a U.S. Congressman, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and a counselor to presidents.