On crumbling campus, Morris Brown president seeks revival

ExploreWatch a video of Morris Brown president Stanley Pritchett touring the campus’ remaining buildings and discussing the college’s future
ExploreAnd, read more about a new exhibit of Morris Brown images by Georgia photographer Andrew Feiler on MyAJC.com.

Morris Brown is a shell of its former self. The Atlanta campus made famous in such films as "Stomp the Yard" and "Drumline" sits almost vacant. The historically black college owns just three remaining buildings, the rest sold off to pay its debts and claw its way out of bankruptcy.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked with Morris Brown president Stanley Pritchett this week about his hopes for the college’s future. He also led a short tour of the school’s remaining properties and took us inside the historic Fountain Hall educational building, constructed in 1882.

Inside the historic building where students once attended classes and chapel services, the rooms are now littered with peeling paint, shattered windows and and even a decaying squirrel. What hasn’t been vandalized has deteriorated in the dozen years since the building was functional. Still, Pritchett is optimistic.

“People ask me all the time, ‘how can you work here?’ ” he said. “But how can I not.”

For Pritchett, an alumnus of neighboring HBCU Clark Atlanta, taking the helm of Morris Brown was a worthy challenge, but also an opportunity to honor his late brother, a proud Morris Brown alumnus who died in 2000.

The school, which at its height enrolled between 2,800 and 3,000 students, now enrolls 40, with classes taking place in the the only building still in use, alongside office workers in the school’s administration building. To restore the administration building, with its missing ceiling panels and aging insides, Pritchett is working to raise $2 million over the next 12 months. Regaining the school’s accreditation is next on the list, followed by attracting more students and boosting program offerings, including its once popular hospitality program.

To raise the money, Pritchett is starting with Morris Brown alumni. He contacts about 20 by phone each week and is lobbying the corporate community for help with a school in which many had lost hope.

“Now that we’re out of bankruptcy, one of our messages is, you’re not giving to a black hole,” he said.