ATLANTA — State Rep. Tyrone Brooks on Monday urged elected officials across Georgia to help Morris Brown College overcome a financial crisis that is threatening to close the school’s doors.
Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, is holding the group’s winter conference at the embattled historically Black college this weekend to bring attention to the crisis. He made his plea alongside Interim President Stanley Pritchett, asking lawmakers statewide, regardless of political affiliation or race, to give $1,000 from their campaign coffers to the institution as a “show of faith in Morris Brown’s courage and commitment.”
“We plan to spend a great deal of time focused on Morris Brown College,” said Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat, who says he is writing a $1,000 check this weekend to the school. “We are here for the sole purpose of assisting Morris Brown College in its quest to raise funds, build enrollment and meet all the challenges this great institution is facing.”
Brooks said he expects 100 to 200 people will attend this weekend’s conference. Membership in GABEO totals more than 700, and Georgia boasts among the highest number of Black elected officials in the country.
Brooks said that since many Georgia elected officials run unopposed each year, they have leftover funds that they cannot spend on themselves and usually donate to charity — money that could easily be given to Morris Brown, he said.
Founded in 1881 by former slaves, Morris Brown is struggling to clear up about $30 million in debt — most of it the result of an embezzlement scandal that brought it to the brink of extinction a few years ago. Last week, the school was given another month to pay the balance on a late water bill from the city of Atlanta totaling more than $300,000.
Pritchett said Monday that the school has raised another $5,000 since last week’s extension. Despite the difficulties, he said he remains committed to Morris Brown’s survival and confident in the institution’s ability to make a comeback.
“Morris Brown College has meant so much to so many,” he said. “When a college like Morris Brown is in the midst of dealing with challenge and adversity … we must do what we can. We know that this community knows how to save treasures, and Morris Brown is a treasure.”
Atlanta City Council members C.T. Martin and Ivory Lee Young Jr. also attended Monday’s press conference. Martin presented a check and Young gave a $100 bill to Pritchett.
“The resources are available for the turnaround plan for the complete restoration of Morris Brown. The time is now,” said Young.
Despite the down economy, the response has been positive, Pritchett said, pointing out that the school was able to raise $90,000 in six hours last Tuesday, just hours before the city was scheduled to turn off the water on campus. The school has worked out an agreement with the city to pay the $65,000 balance on the bill by March 19.
Today, the school offers two majors — down from 48 — and enrolls 155 students, far fewer than the 3,000 who attended Morris Brown at its height.
Morris Brown’s operating expenses are about $350,000 a month but its current income is only $170,000 a month. Students are ineligible for federal funds because Morris Brown is no longer accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Last year, the state legislature granted students access to the HOPE scholarship.
Pritchett said he has been sharing that information with alumni and other would-be donors in hopes of promoting transparency and boosting confidence in the school’s efforts. For him, bankruptcy is not an option.
“We’ve come so close to meeting the requirements to apply for accreditation,” Pritchett said, adding that Morris Brown has met 10 of the 11 SACS criteria. “The only one we haven’t met is fiscal stability.”
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