Her greatest legacy? A job well done .
A lot of people did not want Debra Saunders-White to come to the HBCU Awards in July. In the midst of a valiant fight against cancer, she had every opportunity to miss out on the annual ceremony that this year, her institution would headline as the HBCU of the Year.
But she traveled to DC, in spite of treatment and caution from family and peers, believing that the work of her and the North Carolina Central University staff was important enough for attendance. And when the Eagles captured the highest honor, her speech, one of her last and best, lauded the work of that team, and the continuing need for HBCUs that all of us needed to do more in supporting and preserving.
That was classic Debra Saunders-White, the chancellor who grew legions love from NCCU students, alumni and HBCU executives and advocates nationwide. She died this morning, leaving behind a term of sadness for all who loved her leadership and friendliness, but a legacy of continuing the university’s trajectory of success.
In all facets, NCCU grew under Saunders-White’s leadership. Enrollment increased, and athletics exploded onto the national scene. Research vaulted in undergraduate and graduate realms. And community outreach became a hallmark of the school’s value to Durham and throughout the state. That growth isn’t, and will never be part of the state’s idea for improving black lives and prospects for black prosperity in the state, but she did it anyway and didn’t get fired for it.
And that perhaps is the greatest, and saddest part of her legacy. She navigated bad politics at state and federal levels, and helped a school to grow in spite of them. And while she left on tragic and heartbreaking terms, they weren’t those created by those oppositional interests. They were her own.