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The Fisk Jubilee Singers — A Student’s Experience


In this week’s blog entry, I want to share the words of one of my wonderful graduate students.  His name is Jameel Scott and he is in the masters program in higher education here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  Jameel is a graduate of Morehouse College.  He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member.  He is currently enrolled in my History of American Higher Education course, which has an emphasis on underrepresented populations and institutions.  For one of his assignments, Jameel is focusing on the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  Unlike many students who are satisfied learning through a book, Jameel yearned to experience his research topic first hand.  Below he describes his visit to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  His experience is quite moving.
A Special Blessing

Two weeks ago I decided to purchase plane tickets to visit Nashville Tennessee’s historic Fisk University.  This University was having its Annual Jubilee Day, which pays homage to the original Jubilee Singers who went on tour to raise money and save the school from financial starvation.  This event, which elicits persons from around the world, including alumni and friends, was held on Monday October 6, 2008. . 
For the past two months I have engulfed myself in the study of this historic school. Today, I stood in front of Jubilee Hall with its colossal form looking down on me with mountains of history.  I heard the sounds of students speaking to each other and the breeze of the calm winds scratch my head.  The trees swayed as the small squirrels raced across the street.  Teachers were clasping hands with students while young ladies walked in a flowing motion across campus.  I was standing in the midst of history, where John Hope Franklin and W.E.B. Du Bois were students.  I felt the spirit of compassion and promise woven together with strength.  I walked into Jubilee Hall and viewed the paintings of the Jubilee Singers. 




 The 2008 Annual Jubilee Day Convocation was held at the Fisk Memorial Chapel located across from the historic Jubilee Hall.  As I entered the Fisk Chapel, I was met at the door by finely dressed students.  I was seated next to a man named Harry who was an alumnus of the school’s class of 1955.  We briefly talked about his experience at Fisk and the changes that he witnessed over time.  He was very proud of his school, and stated that his heart will always pump blue and gold (the school colors). 

All in attendance stood as the president and the other platform attendees processed to the podium.  The processional included: Dr. Anthony E. Williams, Professor of Music and University Organist; Reverend Gwendolyn Brown-Felder, Dean of the Chapel; Miss Karla Turner, Miss Fisk 2008-2009; Ms. Denise Billye Sanders, Chair- General Alumni Association; The Honorable Hazel R. O’Leary, the President; Mr. Vincent Stokes, President Student Government Association; Mr. Patrick Johnson, Alumnus; Reverend. Marcus D. Cosby, Keynote Speaker and Alumnus; and Mr. Paul T. Kwami, Music Director. 

As the program progressed, each individual stood at the podium to pay homage to the Jubilee Singers and up lift their school.  One by one, the speakers galvanized the audience, creating a splendid presentation of triumph, respect for heritage, and solidarity with tradition.  Interestingly, the young Student Government Association president provoked the most excitement and reflection on the school’s history.  He sat still all through the service, quietly waiting his turn to the microphone.  He first stood and gazed at the audience and then let loose an awesome presentation.  He said in a powerful voice, “…Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, who stood on the shoulders of the NAACP, who stood on the shoulders of W.E.B. Du Bois, who stood on the shoulders of Fisk University, who stood and still stands on the shoulders of the Jubilee Singers!”  He continued to talk about the sacrifice that these singers undertook.  He spoke proudly of his school showcasing his knowledge of its history and how that history has influenced all of America. 
 Afterwards we heard the beautiful sounds of the Jubilee Singers.  I sat still listening intently as these young men and women followed in the traditions of the past.  All of the singers took great pride in the school with reverence to their history.  They appreciated the sacrifices that the singers made in the early days of the school. 
 Overall, the student body at Fisk University – a group of bright black and brown children – has a love for learning that is equal to students at any Ivy League institution and these students’ appreciation for their heritage runs deeper than an ocean.  These students say “I love Fisk University and will fight for her as she has fought for me.”
 After the Convocation everyone in attendance traveled to the grave site of the singers for deference.  A touching experience, which causes me to say I am blessed to have witnessed this wonderful event.  

As a professor, it is a pleasure to see a student dive into his research.  I hope that more young people will pursue research interests pertaining to Historically Black Colleges and Universities as these institutions are national treasures that play an important role in educating our country’s students. 

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