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Albany State University celebrates Founder's Day

Paul McKendrick says HBCUs still play an important role in today's society

Paul McKendrick, superintendent of Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools, was the keynote speaker during Albany State University’s 111th Founder’s Day convocation Friday. McKendrick, an ASU alum, said while it was important to honor Joseph Holley’s legacy, it was more important to honor his mission, which was to provide college educations to those who might not have an opportunity otherwise. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

Paul McKendrick, superintendent of Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools, was the keynote speaker during Albany State University’s 111th Founder’s Day convocation Friday. McKendrick, an ASU alum, said while it was important to honor Joseph Holley’s legacy, it was more important to honor his mission, which was to provide college educations to those who might not have an opportunity otherwise. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — Albany State University celebrated its 111th year of existence Friday with its annual Founder’s Day celebration. While the convocation paid homage to the legacy of ASU founder Joseph Holley, the gathered crowd also was reminded to keep an eye cast toward the future and be prepared for what might be looming on the horizon.

“Dr. Holley was an extraordinary man with great determination,” Cornelia Modeste, of ASU’s Office of Institutional Advancement, said. “If we really want to pay respect to this great man then we should duplicate his perseverance and let us motivate our students to become leaders of leaders.”

For speaker Paul McKendrick, an Albany native and Superintendent of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City School System, the visit home was a family affair. More that 10 members of his family are ASU alumni.

“We (his family) have always supported Albany State,” McKendrick, who also holds a doctorate from Harvard University, said. “Coming to Albany State was something that was ingrained in us in elementary school. I could have graduated from here in just three years, but I enjoyed it so much I stuck around for all four years.”

McKendrick said it was important to honor the legacy of Holley, but he added that it was just as important to live in the present and focus on Holley’s mission, which was to provide college educations for those who might not otherwise have an opportunity.

“Founder’s Day should never be included in the same breath as homecomings or commencements,” McKendrick said. “HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) today are incredibly important. It took 38 years after Emancipation for Holley to say we needed a school here. It took 52 years after Emancipation for the state to take over Georgia Normal and Agricultural College and it took 67 years from Emancipation to become part of the University System of Georgia and receive state funding.

“My point is sometimes we spend so much time talking about the past that we never get ready for the future. Celebrating legacy is part of our culture, but the really important part is preparing for the future. We have to look to change and begin planning for that change.”

McKendrick is alarmed that over the past 10 years, five HBCUs have closed. The number of HBCUs stands at 105 nationwide, 4 percent of America’s colleges and universities. It’s a trend that disturbs him greatly.

“I have heard and read discussion of whether or not HBCUs are relative anymore, and that concerns me,” McKendrick said. “HBCUs still have a place in our society today. They provide a place for many of us to go to school. Where would we be without the poets and artists who went to HBCUs? Where would we be today without Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, both graduates of HBCUs?

“We have to tell this story. We cannot remain silent. The struggle is real and we must prepare.”

McKendrick said funding is the key to keeping HBCUs open. Then he issued a challenge to the crowd.

“I challenge all of you to find ways of providing funding for this and other HBCUs,” McKendrick said. “To that end, Kaye (his wife and an ASU alumna) and I will be giving $10,000 to Albany State University today. We’re not doing this because we’re rich, because we’re not. We’re doing this because I can see what is on the horizon and it calls for preparation.”