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A Program with Potential

A Program with Potential

University of Louisville program addresses the needs of the African American community, while simultaneously supporting the school’s academic mission

The University of Louisville in Kentucky believes it has found a way to tackle issues affecting African Americans in a way that benefits both the university and the community. The university announced earlier this year that through its “Our Highest Potential” program, it is creating up to eight new endowed chairs or professorships in academic areas that match the university’s strengths with African American community needs. The areas include urban law issues affecting the minority population; peacemaking and conflict; early childhood education; cardiovascular research; cancer research; entrepreneurship and small business development; Pan-African studies; and logistics and distribution.
The particular areas were selected because they address significant issues in the Black community and support the university’s academic mission.
Nat Green, a local businessman and a member of the university’s board of trustees, has been a prominent player in getting the program off the ground. His goal is to get the African American community in Louisville involved in all aspects of the university, not just as students, student-athletes, faculty and employees, but also as a group involved in the financial planning and fund raising for the university.
“The African American community can and should be included in financial planning for the university,” says Green. “We need to find ways to involve them. The university is committed to making them understand how the university raises its money and then helps the community.”
Green also hopes that once the Black community sees the university’s commitment to the community, the trickle-down effect will result in drawing more Black faculty and the best and brightest African American students. As education has always been emphasized in the Black community, Green believes the program is a natural fit.
One endowed chair, the Bettie L. and Charlie Johnson chair in Logistics and Distribution, already has been established with a $1 million gift from the Johnsons. Charlie Johnson is the owner of Active Transportation, one of the largest minority-owned trucking businesses in the United States, as well as Automotive Carrier Services. Johnson is also an alumnus of the university. Bettie Johnson, a former counselor at Louisville Central High School, is a graduate of Louisville Municipal College, the African American undergraduate school of the university from 1931 to 1951.
Recruitment to fill the endowed chairs and professorships, which will be funded through major private donations and, to the extent possible, with matching funds from Kentucky’s Research Challenge Trust Fund, will not be restricted to a particular racial group. Many who are selected, however, are likely to be African Americans.
In addition to the endowed chairs, the second part of the program is a grass-roots fund-raising effort that will be handled through a community endowment, which will allow the university to apply academic expertise to other key needs and issues facing African Americans not covered through the professorships.
For example, addressing the digital divide and technology-related issues is an area not covered by the professorships, says the program’s coordinator, Jon Mapp, who is also a member of the board of overseers. Mapp added that this could be an area met by the community endowment fund as well as other issues that may arise in the future.
Initial funding for the partnership is $9 million, which includes $4 million in private donations, $4 million in matching money from the state and $1 million in community donations. However, university officials say approximately $20 million is needed to fund all eight chairs.
And although neither the focus of scholarship and teaching nor the focus of research will be limited solely to the African American agenda, the program is clearly targeted to the Black community. And despite its focus on a particular ethnic group, the program has received a positive response from faculty and the university community.
“My fear was that we would get a lot of negative comments and observations,” Green told Black Issues. “But we’ve received a lot of support. In fact, people were saying, ‘Why haven’t you done this before?’ ” 
— By Hilary Hurd

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