The Inaugural Symposium of the Kentucky State University (KSU) Atwood Institute for Race, Education and the Democratic Ideal drew a large audience of diverse backgrounds Thursday, Oct. 19 on the KSU campus.

Members of academia, media, community members, students, educators, business people and more were in attendance during the daylong symposium.

KSU President M. Christopher Brown II, the founder of the Atwood Institute, said he’d read about the conversations about race, education and the democratic idea at Kentucky State University before his arrival.

“I thought it would be best for us to harness that great energy and move forward,” President Brown said.

Dr. Crystal deGregory, founding director of the Atwood Institute, gave a history of the institute’s namesake – Rufus Ballard Atwood.

“For 33 years, as this institution’s ninth and longest-serving president, Rufus Ballard Atwood used his intellectual acuity and political acumen to make certain that the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s checks to the mission of Kentucky State University were cashed,” deGregory said. “Rufus Ballard Atwood realized his dream of raising Kentucky State to an accredited college despite the realities, complexities, and limitations of a nation and of a world in which his parents were once slaves.”

Rev. Alvin W. Farris gave the opening meditation and issued a challenge.

“I challenge all of us to embrace the concept of pay it forward; to have courageous conversations that lead to positive change,” Rev. Farris said.

Rev. Farris said the timing and creation of the Atwood Institute are noteworthy.

“I have sensed a new spirit of excitement here at KSU. There is a feeling in the air,” Rev. Farris said. “The new spirit has manifested itself in an increase in first-year enrollment at KSU.”

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., Esq., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, gave the opening plenary in which he discussed what historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) must do to survive.

He noted that HBCUs have to adjust in a very significant way or more institutions around the country could close. He emphasized collecting and analyzing institutional data, figuring out the right enrollment mix and developing a non-partisan legislative strategy.

Distinguished scholars and guests filled panels for the rest of the event, including discussions about rethinking HBCU institutional priorities and outcomes, the power of women’s voices in HBCU leadership, and the role of HBCUs in advancing social inquiry and scientific research.

Scholars and guests included Jarrett L. Carter Sr. (founding editor of HBCU Digest), Dr. Herman J. Felton Jr. (president of Wilberforce University), Autumn Arnett (editor of EducationDIVE), Dr. Eugene L. Anderson (vice president for access at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities), Erin Gilliam (assistant professor of history at Kentucky State University), Dr. Derek Greenfield (independent scholar), Dr. John Michael Lee Jr. (vice chancellor for university advancement at Elizabeth City State University), Dr. T. Elon Dancy II (professor and associate dean at Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education), Dr. Jocelyn Imani (Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture), Dr. Christine Cosby-Gaither (vice president of student affairs and professor of business administration and communications at Simmons College of Kentucky), Dantrea Hampton (faculty senate president and periodicals/reference librarian at Kentucky State University), Dr. A. Christopher Hayden (associate professor in the College of Professional Studies at Kentucky State University) and Katherine M. Saunders (senior research associate at the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund).