Historic Cheyney University — an all-time great institution — now has an all-time low student enrollment with an all-time high budget deficit. In other words, until recently, Cheyney’s very existence was in jeopardy due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s decades-long racial discrimination in violation of federal law, state law, and a 1999 signed agreement with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.
Fortunately, things began to drastically improve when an organization known as Heeding Cheyney’s Call (HCC) was founded in early 2013. HCC consists of Cheyney alumni, students, professors, staffers and retirees, as well as religious leaders, elected officials and other supporters. HCC initiated informal negotiations later that year with Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration but was forced to file a major federal civil rights lawsuit on Oct. 29, 2014 when negotiations stalled.
HCC’s Negotiation/Litigation Team consists of Earl S. Richardson, Ph.D. — a nationally renowned expert on discrimination in higher education who served as president of Morgan State University for more than a quarter century, attorney Pace J. McConkie, the director of the preeminent Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights, and attorney Joe H. Tucker, who heads The Tucker Law Group, which is the largest and most prominent Black law firm on the East Coast. Also included on HCC’s Negotiation/Litigation team are Junious R. Stanton, immediate past president of the National Alumni Association, professor E. Sonny Harris, former campus faculty union president, and yours truly, attorney Michael Coard, former council of trustees member and student government officer.
As a result of recent successes in our lawsuit, court-sanctioned settlement discussions have begun. But those discussions do not include any rumored “takeover” whatsoever of Cheyney by West Chester. Quite the contrary, those discussions are based on maintaining Cheyney’s historic cultural identity in connection with the claims raised in our powerful lawsuit and the solutions encompassed in our impressive “Framework For Remedies.”
HCC will hold a public meeting on July 15 at 6:30 pm at Zion Baptist Church, 3600 North Broad St. to explain everything about the lawsuit, the rumors, the framework and the strategies. But HCC needs everyone who loves Cheyney to attend and to provide input.
For more information and also to join HCC, log on to the website at HeedingCheyneysCall.org, the Facebook page at Heeding Cheyney’s Call, the Twitter page at @HeedingCheyneys and the Instagram page at heedingcheyneyscall1.
Although Cheyney is still dealing with some major problems, they soon will be a thing of the past because of HCC’s activism and lawsuit. And despite those problems, Cheyney has a lot of positives. For example, check out these five (among many other) positives:
It was founded during slavery in 1837 right here in Philly as the African Institute (before changing its name to the Institute for Colored Youth) and is the oldest Black institution of higher education in America. No disrespect to The (Great) Lincoln University, admittedly the oldest Black college in America. But it was founded as Ashmun Institute 17 years after Cheyney.
It has created the likes of Julian Abele — architectural designer of the Philadelphia Free Library and the Art Museum; Ed Bradley, “60 Minutes” correspondent; Octavius Catto martyred Philadelphia civil rights activist; Dr. Rebecca J. Cole, one of the first African-American female physicians in the country; Marcus Foster, nationally renowned educator; Joseph E. Lee, Esquire, one of the first African Americans to practice law in Florida; Bayard Rustin, national civil rights activist; Andre Waters, Philadelphia Eagles star. And don’t forget Travonya Kenly who, as a senior this year, was proven to be the smartest college student in Pennsylvania by having received the prestigious Ali-Zaidi Award, which is the highest level of academic achievement within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Out of the more than 110,000 students in the entire state system and out of the entire 14 university state system, Kenly, a Cheyney student, won. The best and the brightest!
Its distinguished Keystone Honors Academy is a far-reaching academic excellence program that fosters intellectually enriching experiences for students with impressive GPAs. In addition, it positions students to receive Bond-Hill Scholarships that provide for complete tuition funding to attend state graduate programs in the fields of medicine, law, education and business.
Its esteemed undergraduate and graduate Call Me MISTER teacher leadership program encourages African-American men, who are much needed and woefully underutilized in the field of education, to dedicate their lives to becoming role models. The university’s outstanding Teach STEM Scholarship Project prepares African-American women to become highly qualified teachers who will change paradigms in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education through positive role-modeling and high tech innovation.
Its Masters in Educational Leadership program has been one of the nationally ranked leaders in producing master’s degrees in education for students of color and one of the major producers of teacher and administrative leaders in the tri-state region.
Support Cheyney by attending the public meeting on July 15.
The words from David Walker’s Appeal, written in 1829, along with the words of Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of the Tribune in 1884, are the inspiration for my weekly “Freedom’s Journal” columns. In order to honor that pivotal nationalist abolitionist and that pioneering newspaper giant, as well as to inspire today’s Tribune readers, each column ends with Walker and Perry’s combined quote — along with my inserted voice — as follows: I ask all Blacks “to procure a copy of this … [weekly column for it is designed … particularly for them” so they can “make progress … against [racist] injustice.”
Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD900AM.