Colbert I. King’s column in today’s Washington Post is a must read. The column titled A Message from Morehouse, talks about Morehouse College President Dr. Robert M. Franklin’s speech to Morehouse students in a townhall meeting on April 21. The speech is titled The Soul of Morehouse and the Future of the Mystique.
By Colbert I. King
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Eliminate young African American men, and what would police, jailers, social workers, and sports and entertainment moguls do for a living?
After all, young black men live to get in trouble, make babies, act out on stage, slam-dunk and dance in the end zone. That, at least, is the mass-media-influenced image that is accepted as “authentic” by people who should know better.
Someone who does know better is Robert M. Franklin, the president of Morehouse College, the venerable, all-male, historically black Atlanta college noted for building up and turning out generations of outstanding leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., the theologian and writer Howard W. Thurman, and prominent D.C. lawyer James L. Hudson.
Franklin’s remarks to students at an April 21 town hall meeting on the campus didn’t make headlines. But excerpts from “The Soul of Morehouse and the Future of the Mystique” are making the rounds in African American homes and in social settings, thanks to the Internet and a communications phenomenon called the “black express,” which preceded and outlives the Pony Express.
Franklin’s speech focused on Morehouse students. But his message has caught on because it speaks to a larger community of up-and-coming young black men who are studiously ignored by arbiters of popular culture.
He translated the mystique into eight simple words: “Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective.”
Franklin said that after two years at the college, he had recognized a critical ingredient that bonds Morehouse men: a fundamental sense of discontent with mediocrity and nonsense. He encouraged the continued development of young black men “so sensitive to the presence of disorder, mediocrity and injustice that they cannot sleep well at night.” And he used the moment to take on what he views as the corruption that threatens the soul of young men and women “inside and outside the Morehouse village”: the young black male antics so celebrated by popular culture. That conduct, he suggested, represents the behavior of “the spiritually ill and disoriented.”
He demanded, that students instead embrace his “Five Wells”: well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced. And he highlighted three: reading, speech, and dress.
Dr. Franklin’s speech talks about what he expects from students, diversity on the Morehouse campus and violence that he will not tolerate on campus. A couple of years ago several current and former Morehouse students were arrested for the murder of a fellow Morehouse student. I blogged about that in 2007. You can also read Look the part, act the part. And then there was the gay bashing incident at Morehouse back in 2002 in which a student sustained a fractured skull.
Here’s a snippet of what Dr. Franklin had to say in his speech:
But today, our soul is sick and our mystique is threatened. Not for want of more financial resources. We have never had enough money. (And, it is amazing that we continue to produce Ivy League results with HBCU resources.) Nor is the mystique threatened by what the Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called “discrepancies between our rhetoric and our reality.” Every institution has its discrepancies and gaps in quality and performance. My administration is fully committed to eradicating and alleviating Morehouse discrepancies and I trust that you see evidence of progress….
Our soul is threatened by the presence of a few people inside and outside the Morehouse village who are spiritually ill and disoriented. So, I’d like to speak very directly to those men and women, but primarily to men of Morehouse. As all of you listen to these remarks, I want you to do two things: first, help us to disseminate this message widely, especially to our brothers who were unable or unwilling to join the president in this historic chapel meeting….
Second, to those who have not yet committed to the Renaissance and renewal of Morehouse, I want you to listen and make a decision about whether you should remain at Morehouse. I know that a few of you are enrolled because it was mama’s or daddy’s dream. But, if it isn’t your dream, you should exercise the discernment and the courage to transfer to a more suitable environment. There are a lot of schools out there that would love to have a young man who qualified for admission to Morehouse. And remember that there are thousands of brothers out there who did not receive a Morehouse admission letter.
You can read Dr. Robert M. Franklin’s speech The Soul of Morehouse and the Future of the Mystique here. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to read the speech.
This speech should be required reading for all students but especially black male students. It wouldn’t hurt for a few black female students to read this speech too.