AJC ARTICLE: Seminary now feeling Morris Brown’s financial pains

By Ernie Suggs

Morris Brown College’s decade-long financial and academic struggle has largely been a solitary fight, with little impact on the city’s other historically black colleges. But now, the neighboring Interdenominational Theological Center is feeling burned after an attempt to help the struggling school.

ITC, as it is called, recently spent $400,000 improving Morris Brown’s student center, planning to move classes there while the religious school underwent major renovations.

ITC officials were blindsided by the news that creditors holding $13 million in bonds secured by Morris Brown were set to foreclose on the college today — two days before ITC’s fall term begins. They expressed their chagrin in a letter to the campus community obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The move has been placed on hold until we can find out what the situation is on Morris Brown’s campus,” ITC President Ronald Peters told the AJC Friday.

“I have not had an opportunity to talk to [Morris Brown] President] Stanley Pritchett or [Board Chairman Bishop] Preston Williams. Our lawyers have reached out to their lawyers. We would prefer to have the agreement, which we sought and established in good faith, honored.”

Friday, Pritchett cancelled a scheduled meeting with the AJC on Morris Brown’s campus. College officials said Morris Brown will no longer make statements or answer questions from the media.

Peters said nearly 6,000-square-feet of Morris Brown’s Hickman Center would have been used for classroom and office space. But with Morris Brown’s recent bankruptcy filing and the threat of foreclosure, ITC finds itself in limbo.

“That was quite an investment for us, but we can’t move forward until we have something in writing,” Peters said. “We delayed the opening of our school for this. We amended our schedule and we are still not able to get into the building. But we remain hopeful that we will be able to bring this to a successful conclusion.”

After several weeks of mounting problems for Morris Brown, today could have been the worst. Parts of the school — the only college in Georgia founded by freed slaves — were headed to the auction block, to be parceled out on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse.

Then on Aug. 25, college officials filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which delays the foreclosure for at least 120 days while the school regroups. During that time Morris Brown officials hope to find a steady flow of income with which to begin repaying bond holders and others to whom it owes money, including several faculty and staff members.

Last week, in an appearance on the Rob Redding Show, Pritchett said donors have recently shown interest in investing in the school. He said it will take at least $100,000 a month to keep Morris Brown, which is unaccredited and is down to 50 students, operating.

Pritchett also revealed that he has not been paid by the school in three years and is owed $275,000.

Gregory Worthy, an attorney whose firm represents the investors seeking the $13 million settlement, said he was not surprised the school filed for bankruptcy.

“It is not uncommon for debtors to file bankruptcy to the extent that they are trying to develop a restructuring plan,” Worthy said. “That is the purpose of it, for those who have the resources and the ability to do it. Obviously, the question now is whether the college has the ability to reorganize.”

While Morris Brown searches for money, ITC is left scrambling.

Peters said the original plan was to move key operations to Morris Brown while ITC’s administration building, classroom building and chapel were closed for repairs, including cleaning out asbestos and installing new infrastructure.

“We were planning substantial renovations to our own facilities,” Peters said. “So we had to move and we were anxious to take advantage of the close proximity to Morris Brown.”

Since ITC was chartered in 1958, it has always had a close relationship with Morris Brown. ITC is a consortium of six theological seminaries, including Turner Theological Seminary, which was founded as a department of Morris Brown in 1894 to train those entering the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Although Morris Brown has had its problems, we have always recognized the historical connection with the AME Church,” Peters said. “We were helping a sister school out.”

In the meantime, classes are set to start at ITC this week. The much-needed repairs are on hold, but Peters is hopeful that Morris Brown will come through with a solution that will eventually allow the move to happen as planned.

“With such a heavy investment in Morris Brown, we are hoping that we don’t have to go to a plan B,” Peters said. “Because we don’t have one.”




Louisville Institute Grant for Pastors

GRANT DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 1, 2012 – up to $15,000. The Louisville Institute offers a study project grant opportunity for pastoral leaders. This program seeks to create opportunities for pastoral leaders to develop and share their wisdom on important issues for Christian life and practice today, and thus extend their leadership in ways that can benefit both church and society.

Click here: http://www.louisville-institute.org/Grants/programs/pspdetail.aspx

OIA Positions ITC for Fundraising

The Office of Institutional Advancement staff: (l to r) Christal M. Cherry, Associate Vice President for Institutional Advancement; Bernard L. Grace, Development Coordinator; Karla Simpson-Brown, Communications Manager and Timi Simpson, Alumni Relations Coordinator

The Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) staff will roll up their collective sleeves to help position ITC for fundraising. There’s so much to do to prepare for this huge undertaking but they refuse to drown in the “should haves” and “could haves”. Instead their approach will be strategic. “Begin where we are” says the new AVP, Christal M. Cherry. She has encouraged her staff to take deep breaths and take one bite at a time. The SWOT analysis is done, the stakeholder interviews have taken place, the student focus group occurred, some needs have been assessed, and the activities calendar has been prepared. Now it’s time to get to work on the most immediate tasks needed to get ITC fundraising-ready:

• A strong message of brand identity which includes an appealing web site and updated marketing collateral
• An effective marketing/PR strategy which will include Face Book, Twitter and a new blog
• Increased visibility for ITC’s president in local and national communities
• Solid and strategic relationships with the Board of Trustees and Seminary Deans
• Outreach to alumni to connect, engage, and invite to become more involved
• Partnerships with churches to seek marketing and financial support
• Involvement of the campus community (including faculty and students) through focus groups and steering committees

“These beginning tasks will help put us on solid footing” says, AVP Cherry. “We will simultaneously work to build our fund development toolbox. Individual donor meetings, planning our signature event for sponsorship dollars, direct mail, and research for grant funding will take us a step closer to developing and meeting fundraising goals for ITC,” she adds.

What can the campus community do to assist? Support the president as he boldly moves to implement Vision 2015, spread the news about the exciting things happening on ITC’s campus, talk ITC up to neighbors and friends, connect OIA with alumni and churches who may have disconnected, funnel campus activities to OIA to enable them to send updates to the larger community, contact them to volunteer in their office, maintain an positive attitude about ITC and its future, and most importantly, share potential donor information with the OIA team.

“Although we can always use more time, more money, more staff, we will prioritize and launch a fundraising program that our president and campus community is pride of. Our posture will be one of optimism, action, and resolve,” says Cherry.

ITC Alumni Appointed Bishops

The recent 49th Quadrennial Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Nashville, Tennessee saw the election and appointments of bishops throughout the connection, noting their prior achievements in current posts and forecasting great expectations for the next four years with new assignments. Turner Theological Seminary proudly reports that two Turner alumni were among those worthy of note in the personages of Bishop Preston Warren Williams, II and newly consecrated Bishop Reginald Thomas Jackson.

Turner welcomes Bishop Williams, a native Georgian, as he returns to Georgia as the Presiding Prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District and Chair of the Turner Theological Seminary Board of Trustees. Consecrated as the 119th Bishop of the AME Church in 2000, his first appointment was in Central Africa, presiding over the 17th Episcopal District encompassing the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), the Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Malawi. He left that post after growing the 17th District to 16 annual conferences, requiring 86 Presiding Elder Districts, with 250,000 members and 1,040 churches, and ultimately splitting to form a new 20th District.

Bishop Jackson’s various community service achievements include: Chairman of the Board of Essex County College, president of Orange County Public Schools Board of Education, member of the Board of United Way, the Newark Alliance and the NAACP. He is the recipient of hundreds of awards for outstanding community service including the New Jersey Monthly Magazine’s Man of the Year for 2000, the United Way William Ashby Award, and the Newark North Ward Center Martin Luther King Jr. Award. Repeatedly, Bishop Jackson has been named among the 25 most influential people in New Jersey.

Dr. John F. Green, President-Dean of Turner Theological Seminary at ITC, invites the community’s salute to these honored alumni who are serving the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the community with distinction to the glory of God.

For additional information about these appointments and other conference related activities, contact Rev. Rae D. Fitch in the administrative office of Turner Seminary at 404-527-0080.

New ITC Board of Trustee Members

New ITC Board of Trustee Members: Rev. Dr. William Curtis of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, PA; Mr. Lee Haney, Chair of the United States of America Presidential Physical Fitness Council and physical fitness and business professional; Rev. Connie Jackson, Founder – On The Edge Ministries; and Rev. Dr. Ralph West, Church Without Walls in Houston, TX. Student Representatives: James Pernell and Gwendolyn Pabon. Faculty Representatives will be confirmed in the Fall.

Spotlight: Rev. Montele Crawford & Rev. Floyd Narcisse

Senior Executive Assistant to the President, Rev. Montele Crawford, and Executive Assistant to the President, Rev. Floyd Narcisse. Rev. Crawford, is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and received a Master of Arts degree in Religion from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 2010. Rev. Crawford also has the distinction of being the first pastor of The Fellowship Group Baptist Church in metro-Atlanta’s historic East Point, GA. Rev. Narcisse, a native of Springfield, MA, is an ITC alumnus of Turner Theological Seminary. Rev. Narcisse was most recently assigned to Bethel AME Church in Coatesville, PA.

(pictured left to right) Rev. Crawford and Rev. Narcisse