SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - Livingstone College’s president and three alumni of Livingstone College were honored on Saturday at the N.C. HBCU Living Legends Scholarship Gala in Raleigh-Durham.
The event, the vision of William and Vanessa Hairston and other community volunteers, celebrates the significant legacies of North Carolina’s 11 historically black colleges and universities by honoring three alumni from each school every two years.
Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., hailed as the dean of the state’s HBCUs, was honored as a Living Legend of Elizabeth City State University, his alma mater. He is the 12th president of Livingstone College, the former president of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., and was the first alumnus to serve as chancellor of Elizabeth City State University. He has improved the financial health of Livingstone, reduced the college’s debt and increased its assets by more than $14 million. Under his leadership, the college has a new residence hall, Events Center, a School of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts (former Holiday Inn) and is in the process of building a science annex, school of business and athletic sports complex.
Honored as Livingstone alumni were NFL star Ben Coates, formerly of the New England Patriots; Dr. Vergel Lattimore, president and professor of Hood Theological Seminary; and the Hon. Vilma Leake, Mecklenburg County commissioner.
Coates was picked in the fifth round of the NFL draft in 1991. In 2000, he played for the Baltimore Ravens, where he climbed the all-time receiving charts, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has been inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. After his NFL career, he served as head football coach at Livingstone College.
Lattimore received his Master of Divinity from Duke University Divinity School. He holds a doctorate in pastoral psychology and counseling from Northwestern University. He is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. He was the first African-American chaplain to attain the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force.
Leake began her public service career with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education in 1997, where she served for 11 years. She is in her fifth term as a Mecklenburg County commissioner. She serves on many committees including the N.C. Association of County Commissioners Public Education Steering Committee and the National Association of Counties. She is the first commissioner to hold a town meeting for senior citizens.
Livingstone presented Jenkins and each of its honorees with an additional award recognizing their accomplishments.
Livingstone student Wil McCorn was also recognized as an HBCU Living Legend scholarship recipient at the event.
More than 600 people gathered at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel Raleigh-Durham to celebrate the 33 state HBCU Living Legends, who each received medallions and gift bags.
N.C. HBCU Living Legends aims to provide scholarships to currently enrolled students of the state’s HBCUs. The funds are generated through the gala and an HBCU Living Legends calendar.
“The formal education of enslaved Africans and African Americans was banned. However, the eventual founding of schools – elementary through college – for the descendants of slaves began to release and showcase their phenomenal gifts and competencies,” the organizers wrote. “Once unleashed, the descendants of enslaved Africans have profoundly impacted their chosen disciplines.”
The guest speaker was the Rev. Dr. William Barber, former N.C. NAACP president and now president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. The nonprofit organization seeks to build a moral agenda to redeem the heart and soul of the country under the premise: “Some issues are not left versus right, but right versus wrong.”
Barber, an alumnus of N.C. Central University, weaved together the histories of HBCUs with the progress and milestones of the state and country. He also noted this year’s 400th anniversary of the Slave Trade in America.
Racism is policy, not words, Barber said, in sharing the story of Bishop J.W. Hood, one of the founders of Livingstone College.
In 1868, three years after the end of slavery, Hood coordinated with white ministers in rewriting the state Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection under the law and public education, which is not even a guarantee in the federal Constitution today, Barber said.
By 1870, Hood was assistant secretary of public education in North Carolina and was making so much progress that former plantation owners agreed they needed to start cutting taxes before Hood got enough funding to educate everyone in the state.
By 1875, the Civil Rights Act was overturned and only one person voted against it on the Supreme Court.
“Right in the midst of Reconstruction, black folks and white folks built colleges and HBCUs. We call it ‘historically’ black because we were not founded to be black colleges, we were ‘historically’ black because we started out black, but we’d accept anybody,” he said.
Like Hood, the honorees have all transformed their educational experiences at their alma maters into personal milestones and gateways for others. They are examples of when life’s purpose matches up with their passion. Students can apply for an HBCU Living Legend Scholarship by visiting www.hbculivinglegends.com