The United Methodist Church and HBCUs – behind the scenes at the Black College Fund…
The power of your church giving may be stronger than you know. For example, did you know that when you give to the United Methodist Church you are supporting eleven historically black colleges or universities in addition to supporting your congregation? That’s right. You are part of a long tradition that is now managed by the church’s Black College Fund under the leadership of Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson.
As you may be aware, black colleges and universities have been transforming the lives of individuals, communities and our country since before the Civil War. Eleven of these 105 institutions are private-church related colleges founded by the United Methodist Church. In order to learn more about the relationship between these colleges and the church, we talked with Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson and share our conversation with you.
Saad & Shaw: Why did the church establish these colleges and why has it continued to support them?
Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson: The Methodist Church has always had a passion, tradition and belief in the power of knowledge and as the Civil War ended, it was painfully clear that the education that had long been denied to slaves would severely hamper their self sufficiency if not addressed. The people called Methodists (through the Freedmen’s Aid Society, founded during the 1860s) saw an urgent need and addressed it. This ministry to the educationally underserved remains and we see it as essential to empowerment and self determination. According to a history of the Black College Fund written by Dillard University President Emeritus Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, “Without question, the UMC has no peer or competitor, either quantitatively or qualitatively, in terms of church support for its HBCU. No other mainline communion approaches the United Methodist level of generous and sustained financial support.” We believe in higher education and generously invest in it.
Saad & Shaw: How does the church support these colleges? (Do you provide funding, conferences, technical assistance…)
Dr. Hopson: All the above, but mainly the financial piece; our (mostly unrestricted) funding goes directly to the institutions to help keep their tuition and fees low, to enhance the infrastructure, to create new programming—whatever it takes to stay competitive. There is a capital projects designation and we also offer/share the United Methodist Connection of people, information and resources.
Saad & Shaw: Why do you feel HBCUs are important today?
Dr. Hopson: They are uniquely suited historically and otherwise to nurture, challenge and mentor their graduates to be instruments of change whether they’re running a school board, multi-national corporation or a university. These institutions attract the best and brightest in addition to those who have the potential to be great and they inspire them to “find a way or make one” as the Clark Atlanta University motto says. The small class sizes and low teacher/student ratios allow the faculty, staff and administration an opportunity to provide personalized attention and a family-like environment. Students can’t help but flourish and soar.
Saad & Shaw: What role do these colleges play in the life of the church?
Dr. Hopson: We get some of our most effective, committed, talented and innovative leaders from these institutions. Supporting leadership for life is not just a motto for us— we invest in it. The choirs tour and perform in local churches and our Project Athletic Ambassador program links congregations with the BCF basketball teams when they’re on the road for games. Also, in the Southeast, our institutions host the Youth Harambee, an annual gathering of youth groups from around the jurisdiction. Many of the schools were founded in local churches and that historic bond is a tremendous source of pride.
Saad & Shaw: How do these church-related institutions work together? Do they engage in joint programming or joint fundraising?
Dr. Hopson: The Council of Presidents (active presidents and retirees who have served more than ten years) help plan programming and promotion. Further, my office hosts a biennial continuing education event for public relations and advancement directors.
Saad & Shaw: Is giving to these colleges a “black thing” or do all church members give?
Dr. Hopson: Every United Methodist Church in the United States is assessed an amount to pay and many local churches and annual conferences (a group of geographically grouped churches) take enormous pride in paying their 100 percent share. We love those! We also receive memorial and estate gifts from supporters occasionally.
Saad & Shaw: Has giving by churches to the Black College Fund increased or decreased during this economic downturn? (Whether increase or decrease, how has giving affected the fund and its work?)
Dr. Hopson: I am delighted that our funding has held steady, and if anything, it has increased percentage wise. This year we received about 87 percent of $11 million, but our students’ needs continue to outpace the funding so we are constantly striving to reach potential new students and donors.”
Saad & Shaw: Does the support of these church-related colleges and universities perpetuate segregated institutions?
Dr. Hopson: Absolutely not! These schools are and have always been open to anybody with a hope and a dream, regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity or national origin. They are our most diverse campuses with students and faculty from around the world.
Saad & Shaw: What else would you like to share with our readers about the Black College Fund in specific or HBCUs in general?
Dr. Hopson: Our 11 institutions come in all shapes and sizes and there’s bound to be one that fits your needs or interests. If you haven’t visited one of them, stop by and be impressed by the critical research, innovative programming and some of the best and brightest students anywhere on the planet! And, if you want to invest in excellence, the Black College Fund is a great choice. Our administrative costs are less than four percent and your contributions are tax deductible. We support leadership for life.
Saad & Shaw: Any last words on the power of collective giving such as giving through one’s church?
Dr. Hopson: Our schools are a great investment and together we can do so much more than any one of us individually could do. I continue to be amazed at what happens when everyone gives their best gifts—together we are a force to be reckoned with!
Saad & Shaw: Thank you for your time!
To learn more about the UMC Black College Fund visit www.gbhem.org/bcf or call (615) 340-7378.