Dr. Kevin James
It took some indecision early on for Dr. Kevin James to come full circle in education and ultimately forge ahead in the journey of changing the culture of the only HBCU founded solely by African Americans in 1881.
Born under the helm of teachers, James’ mother, father and grandmother were all teachers, which made him pursue anything but teaching as he developed to college age, growing up in Columbia, South Carolina while attending Johnson High School – one of the only lasting originally Black high schools in the state of South Carolina.
“So, I might as well say I was born for this job,” James said to The Quintessential Gentleman.
James would go on to attend South Carolina State University, an HBCU, where he studied music thanks to a small band scholarship. He studied music but it wasn’t until he studied music theory that he decided to not teach music.
The South Carolinian then transferred to Winthrop University and earned a degree in communication disorders, speech pathology, and also achieved a minor in social sciences.
He moved to Albany, Georgia, with his uncle before finding a job teaching nontraditional students. He fell in love with working students or adult students. And it was even more evident that teaching adult students would be his future career path when he met his mentor, who happened to be the vice president of Albany State. His mentor said he would be the youngest president at the college, and James was in awe of his goal.
James knew that his pathway would require more education, which led to him earning his master’s in business management and a Ph.D. in higher education leadership from Troy State University.
“At first, I didn’t know I wanted to go into education. I just knew I couldn’t go home, so I actually even thought about going to the military, but God pushed me right back into it, so here I am,” James said.
Now, James is the 19th president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta thanks to a resignment, him applying and doing well in three interviews. He was ready because he had been preparing to be a president for the last 20 years. And as a result, he is one of the youngest college presidents in the country.
Dr. Kevin James and Eric K. Thomas
James attributed his success to his sensational college experience at South Carolina State and Winthrop, where he pledged Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. He said he is proud to be working at an HBCU as the head person in charge, but he also notices that recently, HBCUs have been garnering much attention thanks to some professional athletes and other celebrities.
But James knows better.
“HBCUs have been in existence since 1837 – a very, very long time ago,” James said. "And we know from the data that HBCUs have always been central for the Black middle class in the United States. There would be no Black middle class if not for historically Black colleges and universities. As everyone knows, at one time, there was no other option for higher education for Black and brown folks outside of historically Black colleges and universities.
“I think more corporate folks and philanthropists and donors are seeing the relevance of HBCUs, but it came as a result of some negative things that happened in this country; police brutality, murders, disingenuous folks in the sense of Black and brown people not being receiving of the same kind of rights as others. … While I am appreciative that donors and philanthropists are really paying attention to Black colleges, I hope it's not a fad or a trend. I hope it’s long-lasting. ...Since 1837, these HBCUs have been central to the education of Black and Brown youth.”
And because of this central core, James took on this job despite the red flags because he knows he can and will overcome all of those obstacles.
“I didn’t really know until my first day on the job, how bad it really was. But I took those lemons and turn them into lemonade, and we hit the ground running with a new leadership team, new policies and procedures in place. We worked on my fiscal stability (and) our policies regarding the fiscal umbrella of the institution. We’re scaling our academic profile. We’ve made history by getting our accreditation back, our federal financial aid back and so I just felt like I could do it. And based on the results, I believe that we can say to the world that we did it, and not only that, this is just the beginning of something great.”
On April 26, 2022, Morris Brown College received full accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), which came after losing its accreditation nearly 20 years ago. Dr. Kevin James led the charge calling the initiative to make Morris Brown College the number one HBCU in this country in every metric, "The Hard Reset."
Learn more about the man behind the resurgence of Morris Brown College below.
Photo Credit: Dash McIntosh