What happened to our Black churches and Black colleges?

Black churches and Black colleges

I was propelled to write this article because of the current status and dilemma of our Black churches and Black colleges.

For the past 18 years, since my retirement as a superintendent of schools and college president, I worship on a rotating basis at five different churches in Daytona Beach for my community involvement. As a public servant, community leader and career educator, my life’s work has been to serve, to give, to support and to mentor our youth and young people.

I was baptized in 1953 at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. God has been my spiritual guiding force daily. Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week. We African Americans historically were forced to create our own religious institutions, including our Black colleges, because Whites refused to accept or allow Blacks to attend their churches and colleges.

What happened?

Hundreds of years later, I ask the question: “What happened to our Black churches and Black colleges?”

My generation gave up most of the gains, sacrifices and struggles that our ancestors made to educate us. They gave us a place to worship and to be liberated and educated as human beings.

In the past, many Black churches and Black colleges were open seven days a week. This was when Black churches and Black colleges were a viable part of the daily life of the Black community. Today, many Black churches are only open three to four days a week. Our Black colleges close their doors on Friday, and open back up on Monday.

Not connected

There is a huge disconnect between my generation and two & three generations of young people. As a result of this disconnection, the survival of our Black churches and Black colleges are at an alarming crisis.

We, as a race of people, have retrogressed on every front: education, religion, political, economics; not respecting our elders; not knowing and appreciating our history. Today, many traditional Black churches are nearly empty as we worship on Sunday. Black colleges are losing Black students to White colleges at an accelerated rate.

The advent of the charter/private/public schools vs. our traditional public schools is one of the many reasons our public schools are eroding. Why? Many of our people now attend White churches and White colleges.

Forgotten our history

My sisters and brothers, it is truly obvious that we have forgotten about our history of being denied access to White churches and White colleges. One who cannot protect and invest in its own is one that is doomed to fail.

In Daytona Beach, we have more than 10 Black churches on the same street, nearly next door to each other. Most of them are half-full on Sundays. The religious leaders, pastors, have very little interaction with each other.

As I attend my five churches on different Sundays, I’ve observed the same requests from all of these Black pastors, i.e., “We need members to support the church financially and we need to recruit more people to attend our church because we have bills to pay. We have to maintain our church.”

Taking money out

I’ve observed on Sundays in the Black community, buses coming in from White churches constantly picking up Black church worshipers and taking them 15 to 20 miles to White churches to attend service. It has been reported that these Black worshipers spend more money at these White churches than they ever contributed at Black churches.

As a reminder, Blacks didn’t create this dual religious and education system. Whites did, many years ago. My friends, we need our Black churches and our Black colleges if we are going to survive as a race of people.

Today, we have a number of Black college alumni associations contributing less than $50,000 annually to their respective Black colleges. In the past, Black churches and Black colleges were always able to sustain themselves by being economically and politically endowed. They were in business to sell quality education and to restore souls religiously.

The real control

Many Black colleges are church-related, politically, spiritually and economically controlled by Black religious affiliations and Black politicians. They really control the financial resources and oversee the operation of these Black colleges and Black churches.

As a former college dean, vice president, president and chancellor of Black and White Black colleges throughout this country, I’ve witnessed, first hand, who really makes the final decisions at many of these Black churches and Black colleges. This, my friends, in my opinion, is part of the overall problem with the survival of Black churches and Black colleges.

This does not negate the many religious supervisors who are doing an outstanding job managing and properly utilizing the financial resources for the success of Black colleges and churches. But there are too many that are not.

Getting paid

Several Black religious affiliations and Black politicians are getting their “fair share,” or assessment fees off the top. Some Black religious supervisors require of their church congregations to pay an assessment fee on a regular basis. The amount depends on the size of the church. The Black politicians at many Black colleges serve as “lobbyists” or consultants for these Black colleges and demand a certain amount of money per month.

It is obvious to me why our Black colleges and Black churches are struggling to survive. Today, we, as a race of people, are not supporting our Black churches and Black colleges the way we did 40, 50, 60 years ago. We are sending our children’s’ children’s children to White churches and White colleges. Many Black parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are doing the same.

As a career educator, I have seen Historically and Predominately Black colleges that today are now predominately White. My friends, I don’t know of any Historically and Predominately White colleges that are now predominately Black.

Why?

I’m sure some of us will always have reasons why or can make excuses, comments and justifications. The real question I ask myself and the Black community is, “How many of our Black churches and Black colleges will survive for the next 5,10 to 20 years?” The future looks extremely bleak for their survival.

My sisters and brothers, if we lose our Black churches and our Black colleges, we will certainly lose our Black communities, our Black history and a viable vehicle to educate and minister to our Black children. I think we have a moral, personal, professional, educational and political obligation to do what’s in the best interest of our people to maintain their survival.

Some of our Black religious affiliations and Black politicians are draining our churches and Black colleges, even though many Black colleges don’t have adequate student enrollment and some Black religious congregations are shrinking. This, my friends, is an accident waiting to happen.

Barely surviving

The survival of Black churches and Black colleges is eroding every day. Many of us are sitting idle, doing too little of anything to take corrective measures to stop this crisis or catastrophe. My brothers and sisters, we need our Black churches and our Black colleges if we are going to survive as a race of people.

As I travel throughout Daytona Beach, Volusia County and the country, I’ve seen a proliferation of Black pastors and Black college presidents. Many Black pastors at churches in Daytona Beach are like a revolving door – in constant change.

At our beloved Bethune-Cookman University there will have been, from 2003 until 2019, five presidents in 16 years. This, my friends, isn’t conducive to maintaining the stability, growth and survival of these institutions.

God bless each and every one of us in the struggle. Stay in prayer and stay healthy.


Dr. Willie J. Greer Kimmons is an educational consultant for pre-K-16 and Title I schools, teachers and parents. He is also a motivational speaker, author, former classroom teacher, superintendent of schools, college professor, college president and chancellor. Click on this commentary at www.flcourier.com to write your own response.

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