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Morris Brown College: A Historic Comeback

Wolverines are known for being tough and tenacious. So, it’s fitting that the wolverine is the mascot of Atlanta’s Morris Brown College. Early in its history, Morris Brown established itself as a leading HBCU. Then, the school suffered some setbacks that might have shut other colleges down for good. But with a change in leadership and a renewed focus, the Wolverines are tougher than ever. 

Today, we celebrate the history and future of Morris Brown College.

A promising beginning

In January 1881, trustees from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) asked elders at Atlanta’s Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church for funds. The request inspired the elders to start an entirely new college. They obtained a charter and the school – which they named Morris Brown after the A.M.E. church’s second bishop – opened in Atlanta in October 1885. This history makes Morris Brown one of a few HBCUs founded by African Americans and the only HBCU with this distinction in the state of Georgia.

Almost immediately, Morris Brown College began a stellar legacy. Through the years, it has produced many notable graduates including civil rights leader Hosea Williams, writer James Alan McPherson (the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction), and entertainers like comedian Sommore (Lori Ann Rambough) and actor Thomas J. Byrd. The Marching Wolverines appeared in the movie Drumline, making them the only actual college band featured in the film.

A “hard reset”

By the 1990s, financial struggles threatened Morris Brown’s success. In 2002, Morris Brown lost its accreditation. The loss of accreditation meant that Morris Brown’s students were no longer eligible for federal financial aid. Enrollment dwindled to under 100 students. But the school was still open, and as long as it was open, there was hope that it could regain its accreditation. 

In May 2020, Dr. Kevin James became Morris Brown’s 19th president. Dr. James knew that Morris Brown would need a “hard reset.” He put forth a strategic plan that focused on essentials such as institutional sustainability, enrollment management and strategic partnerships. The plan also called for new leadership such as new board members and a new Chief Financial Officer.

It worked. By November 2020, Morris Brown’s application for accreditation was approved. The school regained full accreditation in April 2022. Morris Brown became the first U.S. college to become reaccredited after operating for more than 15 years without accreditation. 

Morris Brown wins major Retool Your School grants

Now that Morris Brown is fully reopened, it faces the primary challenge that all colleges encounter: creating a safe place for students to learn and excel. Morris Brown’s challenge was made more difficult by the fact that it lost many of its buildings after 2002. This means that Morris Brown must make the most of every space it has. 

Enter Retool Your School. In the 2023 Retool Your School season, Morris Brown won a Campus Improvement Grant worth $40,000. Mr. Todd Blackburn, Morris Brown’s Assistant Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Director of Alumni Affairs, explained that the Morris Brown community was “very determined” to win a Campus Improvement Grant. The students created a campaign that even featured dance routines. The funds will be used to improve the esports computer lab. The new lab equipment will not only be technologically advanced but will also be able to accommodate students with various disabilities.

Group of people standing in a grassy area holding RYS grant checks

Morris Brown also won an Innovation Lounge Grant. Mr. Blackburn stated that the Innovation Lounge will give Wolverines a place to continue their studies or to relax while on campus. 

When asked about the impact of programs like Retool Your School, Mr. Blackburn stated, “The support provided by this program to our schools [is] very vital and important. They give the institutions as well as the students the resources necessary to create a change on the campuses. Some people may say they’re small changes, but in the development and overall feeling of our students, the faculty and the staff on campus, they can be huge and monumental.” 

The Home Depot is honored to play a role in this chapter of Morris Brown’s rich history. More great things are surely on the horizon.

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