Morris Brown College’s hard reset has started

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Accredited classes begin for the first time in two decades for the Atlanta-based historically Black college

It seemed appropriate that the first assignment for the first class of post-accreditation Morris Brown College students would be to write a paper “defining” themselves.

“What is your mission?” asked Nasrolah Farokhi, who has taught at the Atlanta-based Black college for 43 years. “What are your goals? What are your objectives here?”

For the 20 students gathered in Farokhi’s social science class, the questions held bigger truths and a whole set of unexplored answers.

On Monday, after more than 20 years in the wilderness, Morris Brown began a school year under the auspices of academic accreditation.

“I am so proud of the blood, sweat and tears that the alumni, faculty, staff and the AME Church gave to this institution,” said Morris Brown President Kevin James. “We could not allow Morris Brown College to die. We are back.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

In April, the Virginia-based Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools voted to grant Morris Brown full accreditation status.

In 2002, citing heavy debt and financial mismanagement, another agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, revoked Morris Brown’s accreditation. With no accreditation, students could not apply for federal loans and Pell grants. Enrollment shrunk and the campus of the 141-year-old school shrunk to three buildings - only one of which is operational.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The past troubles didn’t seem to matter Monday. James said more than 200 students have enrolled at Morris Brown and added that those numbers are rising. Last spring, the college had about 70 students.

After Farokhi’s class adjourned, many of the new “Brownites,” clad in purple and black, lined the complex’s grand staircase to pick up tablets provided by Atlanta native and rap icon, Clifford “T. I.” Harris, along with Moolah Mobile.

Dressed in a forest green sweat suit with white strips, Harris reflected on his younger days when he used to hawk homemade mix tapes outside of Morris Brown’s once legendary “Twin Towers” dormitories.

“I hope that these students can continue their educations and bring back the legendary spirit of what this college used to be,” Harris said. “I don’t want people to let go of the essence of Morris Brown and what it means to Atlanta.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The mood was festive on campus.

At one point, Student Government Association president Julian Ross grabbed the microphone and taught the students an old cheer. When he stumbled to start it, Todd Blackburn, a 1990 graduate, quietly watching from the second-floor balcony, yelled out the cheer and everyone gleefully followed.

“I knew there would be great infectious energy when I got here,” said Faith Shamley, a 21-year-old organizational management and leadership major from Conyers.

In 2019, Shamley spent less than a semester at Hampton University in Virginia before returning home to start a faith-based non-profit for young adults.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

“I was led back here,” Shamley said of Morris Brown. “I resonate with the story of Morris Brown and what they went through for the last 20 years.”

Morris Brown has had a long and storied history in Atlanta. Founded in 1881 by the Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, it was the first institution of higher education in Georgia created by Black people for Black students.

Nestled in the Atlanta University Center along, with Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown’s financial problems and debt in the early 2000s caused it to nearly collapse.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The school’s former president and financial aid director were put on probation after pleading guilty to embezzlement charges and Morris Brown’s enrollment plummeted from about 2,500 students before the revocation to just a few dozen several years later. The college couldn’t pay its water bills and lost control of most of the campus, including a brand new football stadium built for the 1996 Olympics.

By 2012, Morris Brown filed for bankruptcy. A decade later, it regained its accreditation.

ExploreMorris Brown: A timeline of the life and near-death of an institution

It’s that story of resilience and rebuilding that attracted K.J. Watch, a 20-year-old freshman from Houston, Texas, to Morris Brown.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

“It feels better when you lost it all and gain it back,” said Watch, who will major in music production. “In my life, I have lost a lot, so this is the perfect place for me. Because I know what it feels like to rise again. We are going to need people to help Morris Brown rebuild and I am looking forward to being a part of it.”

Earlier, in Farokhi’s class, James walked in to observe. Farokhi demanded that he come to the front and speak to the students.

James told them to take a moment and examine their place in history.

“Everyone is watching you and 100 years from now, people will look back at this period and remember you,” James told them. “The hard reset is upon us. That is not just a saying. That is a movement.”

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