BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
DAYTONA BEACH – Johnny L. McCray, Jr., a Pompano Beach-based trial lawyer, was elected president of the Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) National Alumni Association (NAA) last month.
McCray enters alumni leadership at a critical time. Just last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved $16.96 million from the state budget in recurring funding for B-CU, which should secure the institution’s future.
Those funds will allow the institution to survive an existential financial and accreditation challenge and finally look toward the future.
Up, down, up
McCray has come full circle with B-CU. A B-CU Class of 1978 graduate, he is a longtime supporter of the school.
He was president of his graduating class there before matriculating to Howard University, where he earned a law degree in 1981 before being admitted into the Florida Bar in 1982. He has practiced law in his Pompano Beach hometown for more than 38 years.
He served on the Bethune-Cookman Board of Trustees for multiple terms, as well as on various board committees over the last two previous presidential administrations there. He’d won various alumni awards from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the school’s National Alumni Association, and from the university itself as a distinguished B-CU alumnus.
None of that mattered much to the previous B-CU administration.
In October 2015, the Florida Courier published a front-page story citing a scathing six-page letter McCray – then a trustee – sent to the board chairman.
McCray demanded that the board bring in forensic auditors to probe the school’s finances for fraud and fiscal mismanagement – or he would file lawsuits against individual board members and request a state and federal criminal investigation.
McCray’s letter was the first public glance at a boardroom dispute that began roiling years earlier in the wake of the university’s decision to spend $72 million to build new on-campus housing that has now been completed.
Refused, pushed aside
B-CU denied McCray’s allegations. The board refused to commission a forensic audit. McCray was suspended from attending other meetings, rotated off the board after his term ended, and was not re-appointed as a trustee.
Eventually, then-President Edison Jackson and much of his top management, and many board members, resigned amid allegations of fraud, forgery, financial mismanagement, and millions of dollars spent without anyone’s knowledge.
Lawsuits and leadership changes led to multimillion-dollar defaults on the university’s debts and to the university being placed on accreditation probation in 2018.
In 2019, current B-CU President E. LaBrent Chrite came to lead the school that was in the worst financial condition it had been in since it was founded in 1904.That all changed last week with the state’s investment in B-CU.
McCray will now help lead B-CU into the future.
“After several years of serving in various capacities with the B-CU NAA, I am enthusiastic and proud to now step forward and lead this organization as the newly-elected president,” McCray told the Florida Courier.
“I am excited about the new energy and interest shown by our members of varying ages. I expect the unique perspectives, experiences, and love for our B-CU, will drive the passion we have for the NAA and the legacy we want to leave for the future.
“With the support of my fellow alumni, we will use this momentum to move the NAA closer to its mission of organizing Wildcats for the benefit and advancement of the B-CU alumni, students, faculty, staff and the legacy of our esteemed founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
“I look forward to forging a stronger partnership with Team Chrite, as President (E.LaBrent) Chrite continues to lead our alma mater back to its rightful place among institutions of higher learning. The NAA is here to support Pres. Chrite as he tackles the challenges facing ‘dear ‘ol B-CU.’”
McCray is the past president and member of the Broward Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. For more than ten years, he served as vice president and legal counsel for the North Broward NAACP branch.
For the past 15 years, McCrayhas also served as an assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach at Boyd Anderson High School.
McCray is the recipient of numerous awards. He currently resides in Pompano Beach with his wife Karen Fuller McCray.He is the parent of four children and the grandparent of four.