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Morris Brown gets $3 million from Blank Foundation for hospitality program

Morris Brown College’s slow climb out of debt and near collapse got a big boost this week when the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation committed $3 million to enhance, digitize and market the school’s hospitality certificate program.

The gift represents the largest grant the Atlanta school — which had been struggling after losing accreditation more than two decades ago — has gotten in more than 20 years, Morris Brown officials said. The historically Black college regained its accreditation last year.

“Any major corporation or philanthropic organization supporting us is a testament to where Morris Brown has come from,” said the college’s president, Kevin James. “This is a testament that Morris Brown is back.”

In 2002, citing heavy debt and financial mismanagement, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, revoked Morris Brown’s accreditation. With no accreditation, students could not apply for federal loans and Pell grants. Enrollment declined and the campus of the 141-year-old school shrunk to three buildings — only one of which is operational.

James, who was hired in 2019, led efforts to get the school reaccredited in 2022 through the Virginia-based Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. Founded in 1881 by the Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Morris Brown was the first institution of higher education in Georgia created by Black people for Black students.

The Blank Family Foundation grant will help Morris Brown reach students outside of metro Atlanta, particularly in rural areas, who may face challenges with transportation, childcare or inconvenient shift works. The grant is primarily from the foundation’s youth development giving area that supports people between the ages of 14 and 24.

“One of the ways we can support young people in achieving economic mobility is by contributing to employer-focused efforts that strengthen the career pipeline between young people and an engaged employer,” said Daniel Shoy Jr., the foundation’s managing director of youth development and Westside Atlanta.

Morris Brown’s one-year hospitality certificate program, revived in 2019, includes a partnership with Hilton Hotels to eventually build a hotel on campus, which would also provide classroom and training spaces. Hilton Hotels previously announced plans to develop a 150-room, $30 million hotel on the campus. James said construction of the new hotel, which will also include classrooms and a restaurant to help train students, is scheduled to begin next year.

In the 1960s, Morris Brown became one of the first Black colleges in the nation to offer a hospitality program. In its heyday, hospitality became one of the school’s most notable and important programs. Hospitality is one of Georgia’s top sectors for job growth.

“So, when I got to Morris Brown, when I looked at what programs we would revive, hospitality was at the top of the list,” James said. “This just further strengthens our vision.”

Morris Brown will begin developing the online platform for the hospitality certificate in early 2024. The first group of students is expected to enroll next fall and complete the program in the spring of 2025.

“The Blank Family Foundation grant brings us credibility,” James said. “It shows that Morris Brown is good ground to pour into financially.”

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