Why this story matters: Bennett College in Greensboro is one of two historically black colleges for women left in the United States. It raced against the clock to meet a $5 million fundraising goal by Feb. 1 to avoid closing after 145 years.
Bennett College has met its fundraising goal and then some.
During a news conference on Monday, the historically black college for women announced that its #StandWithBennett campaign had raised $8.2 million, including a pair of million-dollar contributions received within hours of each other.
College leaders were confident the school would cross the $5 million fundraising finish line after High Point University’s million-dollar gift on Feb. 1. The donation moved the campaign within $400,000 of the amount it needed to help retain its accreditation.
— lovinlife (@norip68) February 4, 2019
There was a reason for Bennett President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins’ positivity. A large part was due to her faith that the college was worth saving. The other part? Another million-dollar contribution.
Kwanza Jones, a West Coast entrepreneur and philanthropist, is also the daughter and niece of a pair of Bennett Belles. Last summer, Jones’ mother put a bug in her ear about donating to the school. Together with her partner José Feliciano, the couple leads the SUPERCHARGED Initiative, which invests in organizations dedicated to education, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity and empowerment.
“Last Thursday, we said we could do something. We had not heard about the accreditation status. We called up and said we’d like to give $1 million dollars, and that’s what we did,” Jones said during the news conference as the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel erupted in cheers.
Similar to Bennett’s million-dollar Thursday on Jan. 24 — where the Papa John’s Foundation and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation each chipped in $500,000 — the SUPERCHARGED contribution came within hours of High Point’s giveaway. Feb.1 became $2 million Friday.
The campaign total didn’t include an additional $357,500 that High Point University President Nido Quebin presented to Dawkins on Monday.
Among Quebin’s call-to-action to the High Point community, his influence as a BB&T board member secured a $200,000 check; his buddy relationship with the executive chairman of Old Dominion Freight Line garnered a $100,000 donation; and his term as honorary chair for the Wyndham PGA Golf Tournament captured a $25,000 check.
Bennett and Beyond
Sounds of “Amen” and “Praise God” filled the sanctuary, but Bennett isn’t out of the woods yet. School leaders will meet with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) later this month to learn if its accreditation will be restored.
Whether or not Bennett convinces the accrediting body to reverse its decision, stories of HBCUs facing financial struggles and dwindling enrollment seem to be ongoing.
A recent article in The Atlantic asked “Will Anyone Save Black Colleges?” It noted how HBCUs have been underfunded for decades and how they rarely receive transformational donations.
After his death in 2017, Charlotte businessman and philanthropist Porter Byrum left more than $140 million to Wake Forest, Queens and Wingate Universities. In comparison, Spelman College — the other women-only HBCU besides Bennett — received a $30 million gift, one of the largest single donations to a historically black college.
For Bennett, a successful campaign partly determined whether its doors could remain open.
Where’s the disconnect and how do we fix it?
HBCUs graduate 10 percent of all African-American students and produce almost 20 percent of all African-American graduates. Should the answer begin with alumni? The business community that uses these institutions as their talent pipelines? Celebrities who could cut the check and maintain millions? The answer is complex, paying attention to the wealth and opportunity gaps that exist among donors.
But, we must find an answer. I’d hate to see us gathered here again helping another school fight for its life.
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.