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Alabama A&M: A Retool Your School Success Story

Alabama A&M students and staff with The Home Depot team at the Johnson Little Theatre 
(Photo Courtesy Alabama A&M University)

Since Retool Your School began, The Home Depot has awarded 184 Campus Improvement Grants totaling more than $5.25 million to the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCUs”). One school that has greatly benefitted from this program is Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (“Alabama A&M”). Read on to learn how Alabama A&M has used its grants to enhance its historic campus. 

The Alabama A&M story

The story of Alabama A&M begins with Dr. William Hooper Councill. Born in North Carolina in 1848, slavers took Councill and his family to Huntsville, Alabama in 1857. He watched as his brothers were sold away, never to be seen again. Dr. Councill escaped slavery, joined the Union Army and later attended a Quaker school for freedmen. 

By 1872, Councill had become a leader in Alabama’s African American community. While serving as the clerk of the Alabama Legislature, he pushed the state to create the State Normal School for Negroes. The school opened in 1875 and is known today as Alabama A&M. Dr. Councill served as the university’s first president. 

Today, Alabama A&M is the largest HBCU in Alabama. The school’s STEM programs rank third amongst all HBCUs. In fact, Alabama A&M produces more STEM graduates of color than any other school in Alabama. The fact that the majority of these students are women makes this accomplishment even more impressive.  

Beyond the sciences, Alabama A&M has been recognized for its civic efforts. True to its history of service, the school has won multiple awards for its efforts to register and to encourage its students to vote. 

Alabama A&M joins Retool Your School

To say that Alabama A&M’s campus is historic is an understatement. The university’s historic district, Normal Hill, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The district and campus together contain nearly 50 landmark buildings including James H. Wilson Hall, McCormick Hospital and the Carnegie Library. 

Of course, maintaining a historic campus is no easy feat. Looking for help with that task led Alabama A&M to Retool Your School.

Both Tawana Greene, Alabama A&M’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Kimberly Davis, Interim Director of Development, credit Mrs. Abbiegail Hamilton Hugine – wife of the university’s past president, Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr. – with getting the university involved in Retool Your School. Mrs. Hugine founded the Bulldog Pride committee in 2009. As the committee looked for ways to beautify the campus, First Lady Hugine discovered the Retool Your School Program and encouraged the university to participate. 

In 2012 – its very first year of participation – Alabama A&M won the Campus Pride Grant. Alabama A&M won its cluster in 2019, 2021 and 2022. Given this stellar record, HBCUs that want to win Retool Your School grants would do well to follow Alabama A&M’s example. 

How Alabama A&M used its Retool Your School grants 

After winning in 2012, Alabama A&M used the funds to improve the Quad – the outdoor area where students walk to classes and congregate after classes. The Quad was lined with new paving bricks that donors can purchase and engrave. The university uses the purchase money to fund scholarships for Alabama A&M students.  

In 2019, Alabama A&M focused its attention on Johnson Little Theatre in the Morrison Fine Arts and Classroom Building. According to Ms. Greene, the committee chose the theater as a way to recognize the contributions that student actors, singers and band members made to the campus. The old stage was replaced with eco-friendly bamboo flooring. The audience area was entirely re-carpeted. Recessed LED floor lights and ADA-compliant handrails were installed near various steps and stairways. The dressing rooms were completely redone. Revitalizing the theater has given Alabama A&M an inviting place to hold events for the university and the local community.

The Johnson Little Theater during renovation
(Photo Courtesy Alabama A&M University)
The Alabama A&M Bell Tower before renovation

In 2021, the school renovated the Bell Tower. The Bell Tower is an especially important piece of Alabama A&M’s history. Legend has it that the Tower is built on the very spot where Dr. Councill was sold into slavery. In Alabama A&M’s early years, the bell’s ring told students when to move to the next class or that the Bulldogs had won an away game. Over time, it became a popular place for students to congregate and the focal point of Greek life on campus. The renovations – including a more accessible walkway, paving stones, additional lighting and a new reflecting pool have made the space even more friendly for student gatherings. 

Though the 2022 renovations are still in progress, they are ambitious. Alabama A&M is renovating its student apartments as well as the campus’s walking bridge. It is also revamping the playground in its Child Development Center. This facility is used by children of faculty, staff and students. Giving these little ones a safe place to play will benefit the campus for years to come.

How The Home Depot helped Alabama A&M’s Renovation Efforts

After four builds, the Alabama A&M team and The Home Depot crew know each other well and enjoy working together. 

Ms. Greene said that The Home Depot associates “have been very helpful in ensuring that we’re on track, that we’ve submitted what we need to and that we can get what we need from The Home Depot in a timely manner. They’ve been excellent to work with.” 

Tiffany Mitsui, Senior Manager of Multicultural Marketing at The Home Depot, noted that she was impressed by the Alabama A&M staff’s “commitment to the success of HBCU students and driving forward opportunities.” She continued, “The improvement of campus spaces creates safe spaces for students…The campuses are made better for the students which supports our goal of being powered by purpose.”

The Alabama A&M build was particularly special for one member of The Home Depot team, Mr. Sylvester C. Johnson, Director of Strategic Project – Equipment Services. As an alumnus of Alabama A&M, Mr. Johnson was “elated” to return to campus to help with Retool Your School. He stated, “Our founder, Dr. William Hooper Councill . . . had a spirit of giving back – especially to the underserved. I’m proud to be amongst the tens of thousands of A&M alums (Normalites) continuing Dr. William Hooper Councill’s legacy.”  The fact that Giving Back is also one of The Home Depot’s core values made it “easy” for Mr. Johnson to work on the project. 

Thank you Alabama A&M 

Alabama A&M is a special campus. As Ms. Greene said, “The university is building on the past but looking toward the future. We’re excited about what’s coming.” 

The Home Depot is grateful that it could help Alabama A&M preserve its history and build toward its bright future.

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