The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in front of King’s Chapel on Morehouse College campus. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

UNCF kicks off college social justice initiative in Atlanta

National Football League provides funding for effort

Representatives from several dozen historically black colleges, including some in Atlanta, gathered here Monday to begin an initiative to create and support ongoing social justice efforts at the schools.

The United Negro College Fund-led initiative is being supported by an undisclosed grant from the National Football League. The NFL last year committed $20 million in grants to social justice organizations nationwide after intense debate concerning on-field protests by some players during the National Anthem to raise complaints about police shootings of unarmed African Americans.

The initiative will bolster current social justice efforts by some schools and build other campaigns, said Ashley C. Harrington, director of the UNCF’s social justice program. Organizers hope the initiative will educate and train students to become social justice advocates in areas such as juvenile justice, social workers and counselors and also prepare them for law enforcement careers as prosecutors, police officers and judges.

Many students from the schools come from communities with high incarceration rates that Harrington said are over policed.

“In order for (the UNCF and its member schools) to fully reach the potential that we have to fully carry out the missions that we have, we know we have to start being intentional about how we do this work and it serves our institutions and the community when we do so,” Harrington said.

Harrington said Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman colleges are partners in the effort. Clark Atlanta’s school of social work is the oldest accredited program of any HBCU. Morehouse has organized meetings with NFL players and other athletes the last two years to help them brainstorm social justice programs in their hometowns. Spelman has a Social Justice Fellows Program that UNCF officials said this fall will begin a reading group program with a women's prison. 

The organization is holding a three-day conference in Atlanta. Prominent civil rights attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson spoke about mass incarceration and his desire to see students from historically black colleges and universities get involved to address the issue and other topics during a speech and question-and-answer session with Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell during the conference Monday night.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, has successfully argued multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. His work with EJI led him to open the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala. CONTRIBUTED BY EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The UNCF, founded in 1944, awards more than $100 million annually in scholarships to more than 10,000 students, according to its website. 

> MORE: By the numbers: UNCF report on historically black colleges

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