A small fire in an administrative office suite at Morris Brown College has spurred regional attention and a new appeal from Interim President Kevin James to help the school raise $100,000 for repairs of fire and water damage to the facility.
Officials from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department said that an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the blaze, the latest of several fires spread out over nearly two decades at the campus caused by deteriorating conditions or arsonists.
Dr. James refused to answer questions from the Digest, but it doesn’t take much on-the-record insight to know that if a building fire requires emergency-level fundraising from Morris Brown stakeholders, then actually preparing the campus for its “Hard Reset” campaign to re-emerge as an accredited teaching and training institution is virtually impossible.
There are obvious questions here. What is the condition of Morris Brown’s insurance profile that repairs from an office fire require $100,000 in cash towards restoration efforts? Prior to the fire, Morris Brown was already in the midst of a restorative fundraising effort, which according to its website, has already raised $260,000. Is the $100,00 needed for the fire and water damage restoration independent of money raised from this campaign, or in addition to these funds?
Cast those questions to the side and think about the deeper implications here. If fire and a sprinkler system can force Morris Brown into emergency fundraising mode, what happens if the fire next time is bigger, as a result of human carelessness, crumbling infrastructure or criminal arson? What if it is not a fire at all, but damage caused by flooding or collapse following a natural disaster?
Most importantly, if the college doesn’t have the cash reserves or the insurance coverage to manage this event, what case can be made to corporate or civic partners that Morris Brown is in good enough financial or even physical shape to receive an infusion of cash to support its resurrection plan? Can a college that needs help to pay for fire damage honestly repay outstanding debts, hire faculty and staff, develop or improve student services or even recruit students?
The answers to these questions will clarify the public understanding of Morris Brown’s efforts to fortify or to fleece students who may be convinced to enroll or supporters who may be persuaded to give.
So far, Dr. James has built his public relations currency around an idea that has kept the defunct HBCU barely on life support for more than 20 years; that a black college deserves every right to survive in spite of every sign of death. But is that currency enough to move Morris Brown beyond crisis survival mode and into even substandard operational functionality?
Will catchphrases like “Restore Morris Brown” and “The Hard Reset” overtake and surpass the phrase most embedded in Black America’s collective mind?
“I thought Morris Brown was closed?”