Paul Quinn Wins 'HBCU of the Year' Award at Inaugural HBCU Awards Ceremony

By Laurie D. Willis - Special to The HBCU Digest

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Competition took a backseat to camaraderie and just plain fun Friday night as The Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, Inc. held its 2011 HBCU Awards ceremony on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University.

The inaugural event, which featured awards in 15 categories plus a special recognition, lasted about two hours and was held in the Alumni-Foundation Event Center on A&T’s campus, a nice facility adorned with beautiful art.

About 150 people attended the event, the first of its kind recognizing historically black colleges and universities for their impact in the fields of leadership, arts, athletics, research, journalism and community engagement.

“Marching bands are the iconic symbols of HBCU culture,” said Master of Ceremonies Darren Brand as the event got underway. Brand, a proud A&T graduate, was a hit as MC.

As the contestants for Best Marching Band were announced, the consensus was Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Fla., would win. The FAMU “Marching 100,” as its band is commonly called, is known throughout the country as one of the most electric college bands to ever step onto a football field. The Marching 100 is credited with at least 30 techniques that have become standard procedures among many high school and collegiate bands throughout the U.S.

As expected, The Marching 100 won.

The ceremony’s second award, Best Choir, was won by The Fisk University (Nashville) Jubilee Singers. Among the schools Fisk defeated was Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.

“Even though we didn’t win the award for Best Choir, I’m very proud of our concert choir and the way they perform and represent Livingstone College,” said Dr. Gary L. Callahan, Chairman of the Music Department. “Under the leadership of DaVaughn L. Miller, our concert choir has grown tremendously, and I’ll always remember how they performed at Carnegie Hall in April 2010, bringing the usually reserved Carnegie crowd to its feet in a rousing standing ovation.”

Of course, the host institution wasn’t going to be left empty-handed. A&T captured the top prize for Best Homecoming and also Best Alumni.

Brand, the MC, didn’t try to conceal his excitement as A&T won Best Homecoming. And the young man who officially accepted the award led A&T alumni in their famous “Aggie Pride” chant before exiting the stage.

Bennett College for Women, less than a mile from A&T in Greensboro, captured the award for Best Student Publication.

Carmen Anderson, a 1987 North Carolina Central University graduate, attended the ceremony with a friend. Her alma mater didn’t win any awards, but that didn’t stop Anderson from enjoying herself.

“I thought the ceremony was really nice and timely,” said Anderson, a Greensboro social worker. “It was timely because even though it’s 2011, HBCUs still have to justify their existence. I have nothing against majority schools, but anyone who can’t appreciate the critical importance of historically black colleges and universities – not to mention the valuable contributions HBCUs and their graduates make in the world – must have his or her head in the sand.

“I’m a proud graduate of an HBCU, and I’m really glad an awards ceremony was held to recognize their numerous achievements,” Anderson continued. “I hope this awards ceremony continues to grow because it’s high time HBCUs are recognized. Next year, I hope even more people attend the ceremony and support our HBCUs.”

Jarrett L. Carter, Sr., Founder and Executive Director of The Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, Inc., said the ceremony will be held at a different HBCU each year. A&T was chosen this year based on results from a national vote, Carter said.

Awards were given in 15 categories at the March 18 ceremony, and voting was based on the 2009-2010 academic year. There was also a Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Deborah Scott Thomas, CEO of Data Solutions & Technology, Inc., a global transformation and technology company.

Scott earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting and management in 1974 from Alabama State University in Montgomery, Ala. She received her United States Air Force commission as a second lieutenant from ASU’s Detachment 019 in 1975, and she earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1977 from Webster University in St. Louis.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to be the first recipient of the HBCU Lifetime Achievement Award,” Thomas said. “When I was contacted about this I was … filled with a range of emotions. I experienced joy and gratitude.”

Thomas said her mother, Mrs. Mary Ann Duncan, taught her the importance of courage, giving, sharing, compassion and strength of character.

“She instilled in my siblings and me two things,” Thomas said. “Put God first in your life and all will be given unto you, and get an education from Alabama State University and you can go anywhere you want in the world.”

Thomas’ company, founded in 1994, has more than 250 employees and provides management, logistics, information technology, cyber security and aviation operations support services to government and commercial customers worldwide. Her clients include a veritable Who’s Who list of federal agencies: Defense Logistics Agency; Defense Intelligence Agency; Defense Information Systems Agency; U.S. Army; U.S. Marine Corps; U.S. Navy; U.S. Air Force; Drug Enforcement Administration; Department of Energy; U.S. Department of the Treasury; and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas reminded the audience that some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

“Students, I invite you to dream big,” Thomas said. “You can take pride in attending an HBCU, and you can add to its legacy.”

Paul Quinn College captured the coveted HBCU of the Year award, defeating the following schools: Hampton University (Hampton, Va.); St. Augustine’s College (Raleigh, N.C.); Jackson State University (Jackson, Miss.); Spelman College (Atlanta); Bowie State University (Bowie, Md.); Grambling State University (Grambling, La.); FAMU and Texas Southern University (Houston.)

“The 16th seed just beat the first seed,” Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell said, using a March Madness analogy while stepping to the podium.

Indeed. Many in the audience had never heard of Paul Quinn College – located in Dallas – and didn’t expect the African Methodist Episcopal institution to capture the night’s biggest prize.

Yet the more Sorrell spoke, the more apparent it became that Paul Quinn deserved the award.

He discussed receiving a failing mark from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, but said the college is attempting through the judicial system to re-establish accreditation with the governing body.

“Instead of making excuses we stood up straight, we shook our head and we fired people who didn’t want to work …” Sorrell said.

He said the team’s football field, in a partnership with Pepsi, was converted into an organic farm that was sorely needed because there are no grocery stores within several miles of the college.

“With the help of Pepsi we are … helping the people in the community,” Sorrell said. “We have a responsibility to attack the issues that plague our people and plague our community. With the help of a seven-figure gift, we also knocked down 14 campus buildings that had been abandoned. We also re-did our core curriculums.

“If we have 105 historically black colleges in this country we can have 105 historically black colleges we are proud of,” Sorrell continued, drawing heavy applause. “We decided at Paul Quinn College that we are going to stand up. We are going to fight back. We are going to represent our people.”

Just before the program ended, Carter, of The Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, Inc., received a much-deserved standing ovation.

Carter is Founding Editor of HBCU Digest, which was created in 2010 as a consistent reference point for organizations, schools and media outlets dedicated to the progress and development of America’s HBCUs. The Digest helped sponsor Friday’s awards ceremony.

In addition to the six awards already mentioned, the following were also given:

Best Alumni Publication: Spelman College (Atlanta)

Best Student Organization: Jackson State University’s Student Government Association (Jackson, Miss.)

Best Athletic Program: South Carolina State University (Orangeburg, S.C.)

Best Academic Programming: Texas Southern University (Houston)

Best Research Initiative: Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (Hampton, Va.)

Student of the Year: Bishop Walker, Johnson C. Smith University (Charlotte, N.C.)

Faculty Member of the Year: Dr. Racquel Henry of Albany State University (Albany, Ga.)

Alumnus of the Year: Dr. Charles Mosee of St. Augustine’s College (Raleigh, N.C.)

President of the Year: Dr. William R. Harvey, President of Hampton University (Hampton, Va.)

Laurie D. Willis, a 1986 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate, is a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. Laurie lives in High Point, N.C., works in public relations at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., and owns Laurie’s Write Touch!, a writing and editing business.

*Photo Credit* – Mr. John A. Daniels