Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a recruiting meeting at The Gathering Spot on Oct. 23, 2019 in Atlanta for Florida A&M University. Bottoms graduated from the university in 1991. JOHNNY CRAWFORD

Florida A&M plays on Georgia turf in college recruiting border wars

Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson was at The Gathering Spot near downtown Atlanta nearly two weeks ago where about 100 prospective students, parents and family members listened to his pitch to apply to the school.

His closer: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a 1991 Florida A&M graduate.

“If you are looking at any other college or university, I encourage you not to look any further … You don’t have to look any further than your own backyard to see the difference that FAMU has made not just in our city but in our nation and in our world,” the mayor said at the end of her remarks.

Florida and Georgia wage battle over water rights and football (this weekend in Jacksonville) and for college students. The border war is real.

Ten University System of Georgia institutions offer cheaper in-state tuition to undergraduate students from Florida and other states that border Georgia. More than 4,000 students paid in-state tuition last year, according to an annual University System enrollment report.

About 550 Florida A&M students are from Georgia. and officials say Atlanta is its top recruiting grounds outside the Sunshine State.

In recent months, Florida A&M has recruited more aggressively in Atlanta and has an eager evangelist in Bottoms. She mentioned her alma mater in her inaugural speech last year and brought her oldest son there, along with some other boys, for a visit earlier this year.

Robinson was in Georgia for several days and had help from prominent local graduates such as East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham and filmmakers Will Packer and Rob Hardy.

Florida A&M officials, several dressed in their green and orange school colors, joked about being on “enemy turf” before the meeting. Atlanta, they said, is a logical place to recruit because of its civil rights legacy and large African American population. Florida A&M, with an enrollment of about 10,000 students, is one of the nation’s largest historically black universities.

The university used data from the College Board and the ACT exam to identify schools with potential students.

Fayette County High School junior Ashleigh Roach, 16, was invited by her principal to attend the meeting. She came with her mother, Angela Roach.

Ashleigh wants to study criminal justice, but is also interested in entertainment. She said Hardy and Packer made her feel more comfortable about applying when they discussed how they made a film as students.

“We didn’t have a film school and we did what we did,” said Hardy, who told the audience how students and university administrators helped finance the movie.

They called it, majoring in one field and pursuing success in something else, the “FAMU Hustle.”

“The energy was really nice,” Ashleigh said of the meeting.

Robinson cited statistics about the high percentage of black judges, doctors and teachers who graduated from historically black colleges and universities. They showed a video of students excitedly opening emails showing FAMU accepted their application. A few parents, including Angela, had tears in their eyes.

Bottoms, whose son came to the meeting, said in an interview afterward she’s hoping he’ll attend Florida A&M. The mayor is unsure which school he’ll choose.

“He walks around in a FAMU sweatshirt, so I take that as a good sign,” she said.

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