“This institution has been so instrumental in helping to groom and build Atlanta, Georgia,” Dr. Kevin James said. “That is why this institution cannot close.”
ATLANTA — Morris Brown College is a staple in the Atlanta community and has a long history of educating future leaders. The president, Dr. Kevin James, is leading the charge to revive the institution.
The school was among the thriving HBCU institutions in the Atlanta University Center. It’s the same Morris Brown featured in the hit Blockbuster film “Drumline.” However, a financial scandal and mismanagement led to the college losing its accreditation in 2002.
In 2020, James was named Morris Brown’s 19th president. The announcement followed his appointment as interim president in 2019. In 2022, the school was once again accredited, welcoming a new era of students.
“The first thing that I had to do was, I had to get people to believe,” said James.
The new leader of the institution explained he was met with doubt from those who didn’t see the vision of a comeback for Morris Brown.
“It’s been 20 years since school’s ever done that. They filed $35 million bankruptcy, they lost their land, they lost everything, ‘why are you wasting your time?’ So, my biggest challenge in the beginning was just getting people to believe. How did I do it? Social media,” James continued.
As James posted to social media, momentum built. He said his strategy was getting alumni re-engaged and attributes much of the support to the AME Church. He told 11Alive that a big part of his strategy was asking people not to just believe his words, but to look at the actions accomplished.
“Our first big win, was getting approval by the state of Georgia, just to be a college,” said James. “For 20 years — well 17, 18 years or so, Morris Brown was just operating as a nonprofit,” he said.
In October, the school celebrated its homecoming week, bringing together a new generation of students and lifelong alumni. Graduating senior Syquan Hobes is among that new generation. The Student Government Association president said the school welcomed him with open arms. It’s here that he felt heard after leaving another school.
“When I was making my decision, the only president that reached back out and responded to me was Dr, James,” said Hobes. “It’s just a very authentic spirit and a very authentic energy here. It feels go to be at a place that you are cared about and heard.”
Hobes is among the more than 300 students James said are currently enrolled at the college; it’s an increase following the school’s accreditation.
“Four years ago when I started at Morris Brown College, we had 20 students. Today we have 338 students. It’s over a 1500% growth since we’ve become accredited,” James said.
While the school is growing, the school’s history still lurks in the background. When asked how he can prevent history from repeating itself, James said they now have the right leaders in place.
“Twenty years ago there was financial mismanagement. Everything rises or falls on leadership, John Maxwell said that. Here at Morris Brown, we will never go back down that road again because we have the right leaders in place. Governance is everything; making sure you have the right folks, who are competent, who can lead and make sure that the institution is operating with integrity and doing what they are supposed to do. So that is how I can promise the community that we will never go back down that road again. Not under this administration,” said James.
Fiscal stability, continuing to grow an academic profile and enrollment growth are some of James’ biggest goals for the near future. He also said Morris Brown College is a safe space for Black students.
“In the realm of HBCUs we are a safe haven for students. At HBCUs there is no conversation about critical race theory, about slavery benefiting Black people. Come to where you are accepted not tolerated. That is the strength of HBCUs for our communities,” said James.
For Hobes, his attendance at the school is building on a family legacy.
“My mom actually, received a scholarship here when she graduated high school to be part of the dance team, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to continue her career because she was pregnant with me. So, I kind of looked at Morris Brown to finish something that she started,” he said.
Hobes said while the school isn’t perfect and doesn’t have as many resources when it comes to technology, the pros outweigh the cons. He said the small class sizes, mentorship, and hands-on learning, benefit him and his peers.
As for the future of Morris Brown College, James said they are focused on growing and re-establishing themselves as a landmark institution in Atlanta.
“What we’ve done for our community for 142 years is that we’ve been an institution of access. We call ourselves a safe haven for all hungry souls, a place where that student might need a second chance, where that student just needs someone to hold their hand and guide them. That’s Morris Brown College,” said James.
“This institution has been so instrumental in helping to groom and build Atlanta, Georgia and I don’t bite my tongue when I say that. That is why this institution cannot close, that is why this institution cannot just survive but thrive,” James said.