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Clergy and deans say black colleges need black churches

by B. Denise Hawkins

Washington — When a small group of spirited clergy, Black-college presidents, deans and community leaders came together for an early morning session at the national conference of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) on a recent Saturday morning, they did more than pray and render hearty amens.

 

 The leaders of the nation’s Black churches and church-related colleges and universities concluded that what’s been ailing Black churches and Black colleges is the divorce that has shattered their longstanding union.

 

 “The Black Church and the Black college together constitute the real, authentic, affective difference. Not one or the other, but the two combined,” said Dr. Clarence G. Newsome, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity.

 

 But somewhere around the “mid-20th century,” said Newsome, “a sad thing happened. We began to see a move toward a divorcing of the church from the college and the college from the church. With catastrophic results.”

 

 The escalation of campus violence and the “problems on our social landscape have everything to do with the ghettoization of the church and of religion in our society. Secularization has not done us well, it has done us a grave disservice,” argues Newsome who serves on the advisory committee of the North American-European Theological Seminar of the American Academy of Religion.

 

 Fortunately, Newsome said, “It’s not too late for us to reverse this trend, but if we don’t we will have made a fatal mistake.” According to the Detroit-based Black Church & Black Colleges/University Network, 72 of the nation’s 117 historically Black colleges and universities are church-related.

 

 Livingstone College, an African Methodist Zion-related college formed in 1879, is considered the first Black institution of higher learning created for and by African-Americans, said the Rev. Carolyn Corey, executive director of the Black Church & Black Colleges/University Network.

 

 The College Fund/UNCF, formerly the United Negro College Fund, was one of the cornerstones of the Black church-Black college alliance, said Corey, who is also an associate minister of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Detroit. The fund was originally established by Black churches for Black church-related colleges of all denominations.

 

 Today the College Fund serves as the fundraising arm for 41 private HBCUs. And one of the first founders of NAFEO, the Rev. Miles Mark Fisher, was an ordained minister.

 

 “Statistics document … tile fact that the church’s investment in Black colleges pays off — 95 percent of the nation’s Black pastors are graduates of Black colleges, universities and seminaries; 74 percent of all Black Ph.Ds receive their baccalaureates from Black colleges,” Corey said.

 

 But getting the Black church to invest financially in Black colleges and universities today is a growing struggle for many clergy, said the Rev. John O. Peterson Sr., pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA. At the turn of the century, the average Black church-related college or university received about 67 percent of its support from the Black church.

 

 Today, Peterson said, “if a Black college gets 17 percent of its budget from a Black church, it’s doing reasonably well.”

 

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