Two years ago, the Charlotte chapter of the Morehouse College Alumni Association was moribund, its charter lost. Then Steven Clincy got involved.
As the chapter’s new president, Clincy (class of 1999) set out to rebuild the local group. On Oct. 10, one of his first big goals will be met when the Morehouse Glee Club and the Charlotte Symphony host a benefit concert at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater. Proceeds will establish a scholarship fund for Morehouse students in the Charlotte area.
The concert comes at a time when high levels of student debt have sparked a national debate about college affordability. Morehouse made headlines in May when its commencement speaker, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith, announced before a stunned crowd that his family would wipe out the student debt for the entire 2019 graduating class – a gift estimated to cost between $20 million and $40 million.
According to the Morehouse website, a student living on campus with a meal plan can expect to pay about $48,500 for the current academic year. That puts a Morehouse degree out of reach for many potential students, Clincy told Qcitymetro.
“We get requests all the time from students reaching out, just asking to cover a couple thousand dollars,” he said. “They can’t graduate because they have a balance, and it could be as low as a thousand dollars, and that’s hard for them to come up with.”
Clincy, a tax director in the Mooresville office of Werner Co., an Illinois-based company that makes ladders, said his years spent at Morehouse were transformative. He now wants to provide that opportunity to others.
No easy feat
Talks between the alumni association and the Charlotte Symphony began more than a year ago, Michelle Hamilton, the symphony’s vice president for development, said. But actually landing the glee club was no easy feat.
“There’s the complication of the symphony’s schedule and availability of a concert hall,” Hamilton said. “So trying to match the glee club and the orchestra and the concert hall was quite a task, but we persisted.”
The Morehouse Glee Club, currently under the direction of Dr. David Marrow, is in high demand. Last Christmas, the group performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“We were trying to get something as big as that, because that’s a big concert down in Atlanta,” Clincy said.
With a seating capacity of 2,097, the Belk Theater is the largest of the Blumenthal’s four venues, and Clincy and Hamilton said they’re eager to fill each seat.
Hamilton said the Charlotte Symphony organization is recruiting individual and business sponsors to cover production costs, so that all money raised can go to scholarships. The event is not a fundraiser for the symphony, she said.
“What we want to do is really be a part of our whole community,” Hamilton said. “This is not just a one-off concert; this is something that we hope to see as an annual event. It’s an important new partnership for us.”
Barings, a global investment firm with an office in Charlotte, has signed on as presenting sponsor, with Ernst & Young and McGuire Woods supporting at “significant levels,” Hamilton said. Other corporate sponsors include Dickson Hughes Goodman, Duke Energy, Werner Co., and Mechanics & Farmers Bank.
Hamilton said the corporate sponsors all recruit heavily from among Morehouse graduates. Several Morehouse alumni also contributed.
Hamilton said the concert’s main event will be a piece by Atlanta composer Joel Thompson called “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” – a 15-minute performance that recounts the last words of seven unarmed black men who were killed by police. Written for a choir, the piece was recently arranged for an orchestra.
“It’s a beautiful piece, a really powerful piece,” Hamilton said. “It’s difficult material, for sure.”
HBCU’s need support
Meanwhile, after regaining its charter, the local Morehouse alumni chapter has grown to include about 110 members, Clincy said, adding that the school has about 250 graduates in the Charlotte area.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to get alumni engagement,” he said. “It’s getting better. The brothers are starting to hear about what we are doing.”
Clincy said the Charlotte chapter wants to award $12,000 scholarships to five Charlotte-area Morehouse students each year.
As the cost of a college education escalates, Clincy said, it becomes more important for HBCU graduates to support those institutions and the students who attend.
“These kids aren’t rich, and so it becomes harder and harder from an HBCU perspective,” he said. “We don’t have the capital that (predominately white institutions) have. So it’s incumbent upon all of us who have attended HBCUs to try to help as much as possible to raise money for these kids.”
Editor’s Note: Qcitymetro will give away two tickets to this concert to one lucky member of our Qcity Press Club. Join today.