"A fool will lose tomorrow by reaching back for yesterday."
— Lady Charmaine Day
We all remember the good times and wonderful memories from our time at Lincoln University, but do you feel as warmly about the future of the school?
I don’t, and that troubles me greatly.
Many of you may not realize that 800 young men and women did not return to our alma mater this fall because of federal and state funding cuts. At a school with 2,200 students, that number is as heartbreaking as it is alarming.
Unfortunately, many of my fellow alumni aren’t hearing the serious alarm at the gates of Lincoln University.
The time has come for all of us to act to help save Lincoln before it exists only in our memories. The only way for the university to fully move past its financial woes is through the contributions of its vast alumni network.
If there was ever a time to heed the call to action, you need to hear it today. If you have ever felt any emotion toward Lincoln, you need to feel it today. If you believe that Lincoln gave anything to you, it is time to give something back to it.
In dangerous times, there is no sin greater than inaction.
At this crucial time when action is needed, too many of us would rather debate minutia and semantics than focus on direction and solutions to save these young minds and prevent the school we love from going broke.
Rather than support the dedicated efforts and difficult decisions of our president, Dr. Robert R. Jennings, some of us would rather lead the charge to criticize and critique his actions — without offering to help solve the problems that threaten the very existence of the university.
Instead of encouraging more of our fellow Lincoln brothers and sisters to participate in saving the institution by giving of their resources, we are allowing time - and the futures of some promising young African-Americans - to be lost while we waste energy doing things like debating the fate of old buildings.
Do those people fighting to get these buildings on a National Register of Historic Places realize the implications — and costs — of such a measure? Have they weighed the consequences of keeping a part of the distant past in tact, rather than welcoming a promising future? Have any of the protestors ever restored one of these buildings under the demanding codes of the registry they wish the building was a part of for posterity?
Probably not. See, it’s much easier to talk about what to do than to actually do it.
Many of the same alumni who insist on saving an antiquated building fall oddly silent on matters of saving the student body and answering the financial call to help preserve Lincoln’s educational legacy.
How can anyone care more about a 100 year-old building than an 18-year-old African-American mind?
A building doesn’t carry on a legacy; a person does. As historic and symbolic as some of these old buildings are to all of us, they can’t shape a young mind into the next Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway or Gil Scott-Heron.
Only Lincoln University’s educators, curriculum and community can do that.
If we, as African-Americans, don’t understand that our salvation comes from education, then we have truly learned nothing from the past. Educating ourselves, our children and our grandchildren is the only means by which we can step away from the racial inequalities that we’ve all had to endure for centuries.
Are we so foolish as to believe that we can rely on people outside the community to educate us as equally and meaningfully as we have done for ourselves? We know it’s not so.
Historically Black Colleges like Lincoln have spent decades turning out the best and brightest leaders for our community. Indeed, they are our best hope for a brighter future.
Yet, now that Lincoln needs our help, just 5 percent of the 14,000 alumni help the very institution that was so integral in their own success. That pathetic level of participation should both embarrass and enrage alumni, but it MUST also motivate us to act, and act NOW.
Under the direction of Dr. Jennings, Lincoln is tirelessly pursing solutions to its own funding problems. University officials have had to obtain donations outside the community to help address funding shortfalls. While these generous benefactors have helped, they have also said they’d help more if the Lincoln alumni were able to give more.
Indeed, our weak history of giving has hurt us two-fold. We have had to do more with less, but we don’t even have less.
As is often the case, the solution we seek as a community usually lies in our own backyard It’s fine for other people who are sincerely committed to helping our cause to contribute, but the African-American community must take the lead in solving this financial problem.
Many of my fellow alumni have observed that I am solely focused about money in our recent conversations about the school.
They are absolutely right. I am tired of our peers from other colleges laughing at our paltry rate of participation.
To me, there is nothing more important to the fate of Lincoln than addressing its financial problem and doing so right now. Until we do what we can to help the university survive, we can’t think about what we can do to help it prosper.
My philosophy in life is to always establish priorities. The biggest and most important priority for the Lincoln community right now is to get the school out of its current financial bind, so that more students aren’t forced to leave the university.
We need to establish this goal as the most important priority now and, after we’ve addressed the problem, then we can have debates over old buildings or any other minutia that might be on minds of alumni.
Being involved in the corporate world and running my own businesses, I have found an old adage to be very true: actions speak louder than words. You either do, or you don’t do, but talking about a problem doesn’t solve it.
In other words, money talks and bullshit walks.
Unfortunately, we live in a capitalistic society where money is the tender by which things get done. We can wish things were different, but we need to abide by the existing rules to accomplish our goals.
I certainly don’t expect anyone to just take my word as gospel without holding my feet to the fire as well. In fact, let us hold everyone’s feet to the fire and encourage and challenge each other to pitch in to help this critical situation.
I have always felt it was an obligation for us to give back to the school that gave us so much. What has always bothered me is that so many other Lincoln alumni don’t feel the same way.
I am asking you to help change that today. This is the time to do more than say how much you appreciate Lincoln. It’s time to act and convince others to act along with you.
It’s time to give back and help ensure that there is a future for the university we love.
Call your classmates; email your fellow alumni; meet with them over coffee; hold conferences; suggest entrepreneurial ideas and fundraisers that might help raise money. Do all that you can, and don’t stop meeting until we have increased our participation percentage and level of giving.
Know that it’s not about how much you give, but about how much you care to help. Give what you can afford; your $5 contribution is as valuable as the next donor’s $50,000, because the more alumni that demonstrate that they care, the stronger our community becomes, which will cause more of our classmates to contribute.
In the end, the more we give, the greater our voice will be.
We have all considered Lincoln to be more of a family atmosphere than that of a cold and callous institution. It’s a big reason why we feel attached to it years after we’ve left.
If Lincoln is indeed a big family, its brothers and sisters need to come together and solve problems like a family would: by deciding on a plan and then executing it. One or two of us can’t do it alone, but as a family we should be able to solve a problem ourselves instead of hoping for the charity of others outside the community.
It’s time the family came together to solve its problems and show that it can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Once we’ve come together to save Lincoln, we can then look to the future knowing that we guaranteed the next generation of African-American leaders will have a place where they can learn and grow, as we once did.
We will have shown that we can use our past to preserve our future and create the opportunities of tomorrowthrough the bonds of yesterday. That’s a legacy we can be very proud of.
Lincoln University gave us a future. It’s time to return the favor
—Chico Stafford 73’