Note: This post is co-authored with Felecia Commodore, a Ph.D. student in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Immediately after the Civil War, Black church members from the North went South with the goal of establishing schools for the formerly enslaved African-American population. Through these efforts, colleges such as Morris Brown, Paul Quinn, Edward Waters, Allen, and Livingstone were created. These institutions offered a liberal arts curriculum when many others succumbed to the industrial arts curriculum promulgated by Northern White Philanthropists. Because they rarely took money from wealthy Whites, many of these institutions were in a constant state of struggle.
Black churches established quite a few private Black colleges. These institutions continue to operate today and most of them struggle financially with some of them on the brink of closure. Unfortunately, Black churches are not supporting Black colleges in substantial ways. In some cases Black churches have only a tangential relationship with the Black colleges they founded and in others the Black colleges have not cultivated a strong relationship with their founding church. Regardless, Black colleges need Black churches.
We offer the following suggestions to Black churches and Black colleges and we hope that these suggestions help foster better, stronger relationships.
First, pastors of Black churches must bring the needs and strengths of Black colleges to the pulpit. In order to be supportive of young African Americans, especially those from low-income families, it is vital to support Black colleges. Pastors can encourage their congregations to support scholarships for students who attend Black colleges. According to myriad research studies, pastors have substantial influence over the giving habits of their parishioners and can sway these giving patterns by making connections to faith, tithing, and sacrifice. A pastor can make a connection between the church's mission and the support of Black colleges, noting that Black colleges are points of access for many of the students in Black churches' pews and communities. Moreover, pastors can provide formal and sustained church support to Black colleges by working with church leadership to create a church-established fund or church-wide budgetary item.
In addition, alumni of Black colleges who attend church regularly and are active in their churches can act as intermediaries, connecting their alma maters to their churches. Alumni also need to give in more substantial ways to Black colleges, especially those alumni of Black churches that are in strong financial health and plentiful in membership. Sponsoring a Black college fair in partnership with the church, connecting with other church members of similar alma maters to raise monies, and including at least one program on church calendars focusing or partnering with Black colleges, will provide opportunities for relationship building and fundraising.
Likewise, Black colleges need to be visible in Black churches. Presidents should partner with Black church pastors to highlight the students at Black colleges as well as these institutions' contributions to society. In addition, Black colleges can open up their campuses to Black churches, offering gathering spaces for special events, conferences, and youth retreats. Presidents can invite pastors to establish campus ministry groups, have specific Sunday services dedicated to celebrating the schools, and speak to congregations and parents via the pulpit or town halls to keep communication open about what the institution is doing and how parishioners can be supportive.
The secret to better relationships between Black colleges and Black churches is communication, cooperation, and interaction. Through support of Black colleges, Black churches can make change at a much larger level. They can assist with the education of African Americans committed to social justice and positive change throughout the world.