M. Christopher Brown II, Ph.D
18th President of Kentucky State University
The time has come for institutions of higher learning, especially HBCUs, to be more aggressive about the advancement of scholarship in spaces and within topics of import to “all” communities. Right now, the heavy lifting of the delicate condition of black America and other marginalized populations is being done by several worthy black and white scholars employed by non-HBCUs. The nation is hungry for leadership, not from an individual or within a cause, but from an institutional approach that portends a holistic and indigenous response to solving the most vexing issues of our time.
We are in the midst of interpolated social crises in collusion with covert economic, political and industrial emergencies unlike we have ever witnessed for the better part of 50 years. And while HBCUs have maintained their unparalleled importance and delivery of black human capital to address these issues, our institutions no longer move with collective dispatch in elevating the thinking or the value of these issues for those outside of our gates. The seat at the table for the likes of Charles S. Johnson, Booker T. Washington, Johnnetta B. Cole, Samuel D. Proctor, and Mary McLeod Bethune have long been empty.
We are in the midst of interpolated social crises in collusion with covert economic, political and industrial emergencies unlike we have ever witnessed for the better part of 50 years.
Further, our most persistent challenges in public health, political access, wealth building, workforce utility, and educational attainment are not being addressed in corpus by HBCU researchers or thought leaders. This is not to criticize our campuses or those who toil as faculty and researchers at our institutions; rather it is to hearken all of our attentions to the resource challenge among HBCUs, and to again make clear how urgent the times have become in spite of what we may or may not have in the way of enrollment, facilities, or extramural funding.
The Atwood Institute is a function and focus of the above priorities. Its seed funding was repurposed from monies typically reserved by the institution for presidential civic memberships, country club access, and health club dues. While each of these things are necessary for a leader to build relationships within the community, fundraising prospects and goodwill for the institution, in the short and long term, they are not the best investment for my institution when weighed against the prospects of elevating Kentucky State and HBCUs to the national forefront and/or influencing policy conversations on racial, educational, or democratic disparities.
The Atwood Institute will function as part talent incubator, part research hub, part town square and part conscience for the HBCU community. In all of the areas where HBCU work in surveying, conversation creation, analytical interpretation and “mother-wit” have gone unnoticed even among our own campuses, we hope to close that gap by exposing the voices and ideas which speak truth to the power of our collective existence and individual identities.
– Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, in “The Urgency and Fear of Now: The Atwood Institute and the Future of HBCUs”