This article is a speech given by the late President Emeritus Dr. A.I. Thomas (pictured below) in 2007 to the Prairie View A&M University National Alumni Association. Dr. Thomas was the longest serving president in Prairie View A&M University history and arguably its greatest. The speech has been altered to address all HBCU alumni associations, but at the time was given to the Prairie View A&M National Alumni Association. His vision for the scale and power HBCU alumni associations could wield remains unprecedented – and still unimplemented. Dr. Thomas understood both the power of institutionalism and the importance of Pan-Africanism as a means to empowerment and liberation for African America and the African Diaspora. His speech is the full embodiment of those ideals and values from which he presided, believed, and lived to the fullest during his life. Hopefully, shining light on his words will reignite the flame that needs to and must burn for not only our survival, but our success.
By Dr. A.I. Thomas, President Emeritus – Prairie View A&M University
Since I am speaking to you at a luncheon meeting, it seems appropriate that I ask, “Do HBCU National Alumni Associations Need a Big Frying Pan?”
Surely, you have heard the story of the HBCU Alumni who were fishing on the lake. One of the HBCU Alumni noticed that every time his classmate caught a little fish, he placed it in his take home basket. Whenever his classmate caught a big fish, he threw the big fish back into the lake. After watching his classmate put about twelve little fish in his take home basket and threw about twelve big fish back into the lake, he asked his classmate, “Why do you always throw the big fish back into the lake?” His friend announced with a knowing smile, “Ray, I don’t keep the big fish because I only have a small frying pan.”
Members of HBCU National Alumni Associations, I am sure that you would agree that it may be time for Ray to get a big frying pan or get a big skillet.
- Yes, it is important to have a dance. It fits a little skillet.
- Yes, it is important to have a party. It fits a little frying pan.
- Yes, it is important to have a golf tournament. It fits a little frying pan.
- Yes, it is important to have a bus tour. It fits a little frying pan.
- Yes, it is important to have this luncheon. It fits a little frying pan.
Let me encourage you to consider at least five big fish for your HBCU National Alumni Association.
For these five big fish, HBCU National Alumni Associations will need a big frying pan or a big skillet. Let us quit throwing the big fish back into the lake of opportunity.
The first big fish HBCU National Alumni Associations should place in a big skillet, in the years ahead is the creation of a:
Within the membership of HBCU National Alumni Associations there are some of the brightest minds in the nation.
There is a need to bring together not more than 50 people and have them “think out” an agenda for the future of HBCU National Alumni Associations.
Tavis Smiley has laid out a: Covenant with Black America.
The Urban League has laid out the State of Black America 2019.
William D. Wright has laid out what he believes in: “Crisis of the Black Intellectual.”
“Think Tank” is a term that has gained popularity since the 1950s.
Each day you hear ideas from more than 25 “Think Tanks” which are mentioned in the mainstream news. These “Think Tanks” have programs which give direction to the ideas of each group.
Conservative “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas
- American Enterprise Institute
- Heritage Foundation
Liberal “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas
- Brookings Institute
- Economic Policy Institute
Non-Partisan “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas
- The Cato Institute
- The Ayn Institute
There are governing “Think Tanks”, Chinese, European, Russian, and other international “Think Tanks.”
Each one of these “Think Tanks” lays out its philosophy, purpose, strategic plan, and road map for the future. A “Think Tank” then gets its supporters behind its programs.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia web site states, “A Think Tank is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research advocacy for a central purpose.”
HBCU National Alumni Associations must create a “Think Tank” to:
- Guide its future;
- Centralize its philosophy, mission, purpose, goals, and programs;
- Develop consensus in its membership;
- Influence the power structure to accept its programs; and
- Give orderly direction to the growth and development of the HBCU National Alumni Association.
The results of the “Think Tank” would establish a clear direction to foundations, politicians, financial power brokers, legislators, etc.
The Second “Big Fish” recommendation for HBCU National Alumni Associations is
We live in a capitalistic society. All of us must understand money. The value of money! The use of money!
Each of you know the value of a little money – over the years, all of you have acquired some money, many of you have acquired “Big Money.” The National Alumni Associations must begin to understand the value of owning, acquisition, and the ability to access “Big Money.”
Consideration should be given to the development of your HBCU National Alumni Association Financial Group.
Most of the alumni in this room have at least $10,000 or more conveniently resting in money market accounts at low interest rates. Some of you have $10,000 or more earning less than 1% in checking accounts. Using highly qualified financial counselors or advisors, 100 members of the Alumni Association could be issued $10,000 guaranteed membership certificates in the HBCU National Alumni Association Financial Group. Immediately, the HBCU National Alumni Association would have an equity position of $1,000,000. This million dollar equity position could be leveraged into a $20,000,000 position to: 1) underwrite real estate, 2) owning a pasta factory, 3) venture capital or other financial ventures. If there were not so many hardcore Baptists in the audience, I would recommend a $20,000,000 Wild Turkey Whiskey or Johnny Walker Scotch distributorship. In five years this $20,000,000 could be leveraged into a $100,000,000 equity position. For this $100,000,000 fish HBCU National Alumni will need a big frying pan.
The second recommendation for the use of a “big frying pan” is to develop an on-line fund-raising program. Most of you are familiar with what Governor Howard Dean did with on-line fund raising program in the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign. He went after $5 and $10 contributions from the small contributors. Barack Obama is a leader in the current political campaign using on-line fund raising. This on-line fund-raising is driving the current political campaigns into the largest bounty in the history of the United States political fund raising.
A $10,000 investment to construct a high quality alumni web site promoting the value of higher education for African-American youth would reach alumni, ex-students, and individuals interested in helping youth go to college.
Ten thousand alumni plus ten thousand hits from non-alumni would be 20,000 contributors. If these 20,000 contributed an average $100 per donor, HBCU National Alumni Associations would need a frying pan big enough to hold $2,000,000.
Get industry to match the $2,000,000 from individual donors and your HBCU National Alumni Association would need a big frying pan to fry this fish.
Alumni and others interested in the education of youth and in HBCUs could be encouraged to give a $25 per month bank draft. Ten thousand bank drafts at $25 per person is $25,000 per month or $300,000 per year.
This is Capitalism. This is the American Way. The day of the nickel cup of coffee is over, never to come again. Starbucks is selling coffee for $1.85 and is making a fortune from a global customer base.
These are only two ideas relating to “Capitalism.” HBCU National Alumni Associations will be able to develop many more and better ideas related to “Capitalism.”
The third “Big Fish” recommendation HBCU National Alumni Associations must consider is
RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNITY
40 years ago, the Kerner Report identified “Two Americas, Separate but Unequal.”
When Katrina moved the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the below sea level bowl in New Orleans, we saw the two Americas. We saw individuals, families, and communities like the Ninth Ward, made up of blacks, Hispanics, and whites driven from hidden dens of poverty into the depths of despair. We saw city, state, and federal officials fail to respond to the needs of the “unequal” communities.
Dr. Ron Walters, an African American Social Scientist at the University of Maryland published a paper titled, “No. 1 Statistics on Blacks in the United States.” Among his No. 1 conditions are:
- No. 1 in the poverty rate
- No. 1 in the rate of incarceration
- No. 1 in victims of homicide
- No. 1 in victims of hate crimes
- No. 1 in mortgage denial rates
- No. 1 in obesity and diabetes rates
- No. 1 in teachers in neighborhood classrooms with less than three years experience
- No. 1 in receiving the death sentence
- No. 1 in the unemployment line
- No. 1 in suspensions and expulsions
- No. 2 in percentage of Americans without health care
- No. 1 in teenage pregnancy
- No. 1 in HIV among black women
- No. 1 in still born deaths
You ask…How can we get to be No. 1 in the positive aspects of community? The response maybe in how we got to be
- No. 1 in collegiate basketball
- No. 1 in pro basketball with 20 year old players making millions of dollars
- No. 1 in pro football
- No. 1 in Hip Hop music
- No. 1 in the music industry
Tavis Smiley recently published a New York Times Best Seller, entitled, “The Covenant.” He listed ten key concerns:
- Securing the right to health care and well being
- Quality education for all children
- Correcting the System of Unequal Justice
- Fostering Community Policing
- Access to Affordable Neighborhoods
- Claiming our Democracy
- Strengthening Our Roots
- Access to Jobs
- Environmental Justice
- Closing the Racial Divide
Smiley quotes Dr. Cornel West, “You can’t lead our people if you don’t love our people. You can’t save our people if you won’t serve our people.”
The State of Black America 2007, published by The National Urban League, focused on 10 essays on the plight of young men.
With almost 40% of young black men unemployed of incarcerated, where was the focus on the recent debates by the 20 Democrats and Republicans actively running for President in 2008.
Do HBCU National Alumni Associations need a “big frying pan” in order to positively impact communities? Can HBCU National Alumni Associations join with each other and other groups, such as the Urban League, NAACP, 100 Black Men, and other interested organizations to deal with this “Big Fish”? Do we expect the Jewish Community to fry this fish for us? Do we expect the Hispanic Community to fry this fish for us? Do we expect the Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese Communities to fry this fish for us?
Do we need to get our own big frying pan and begin to fry our own “Big Fish”?
The renowned black labor leader, A. Phillip Randolph once said:
“At the banquet table of life, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take and keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything. And if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”
Randolph was right. Without organizations like HBCU National Alumni Associations, black folk will never able to take, keep, or hold onto anything, much less the hard fought gains that we have struggled to achieve.
The responsibility of HBCU National Alumni Associations must also extend beyond the city, state, and nation. I am sure each one of you has read Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat. We no longer live in the Houston or Carthage Community, the Texas or California Community, or the United States Community. Each one of us is wearing clothes made outside of the U.S.A. We are eating food imported from the world or from international communities.
Why not get involved in building communities in Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Why not the Bahamas? Why not Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, or Haiti?
Examples of the understanding of “Capitalism” and “Responsible for Community” are reflected in the efforts of the Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc., a Houston organization under the leadership of Rev. KirbyJon Caldwell and a membership organization, in Jamaica, New York, led by Dr. Floyd Flake out of Houston’s Acres Homes Area.
The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. leveraged its funds with local and national banks. Together with corporate gifts, the result was a major shopping center anchored by a Fiesta Grocery Store. The shopping center has grown near twenty smaller store units. They Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. developed The Power Center Building which includes a large banquet hall and professional offices. The group established the Imani School, a Texas Charter School.
The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. also developed one of the largest residential villages consisting of over two hundred housing units, each appraised from $125,000 to $225,000. The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. had a big frying pan and demonstrated an understanding of capitalism and responsibility to the community.
Dr. Flakes secured a “big frying pan” in Jamaica, New York. Understanding capitalism and the responsibility for empowering community, his group acquired an entire city block of property which was turned into a shopping strip. His group also developed an education academy.
One of the most pressing problems facing our nation is the energy crisis. HBCU National Alumni Associations working with respective HBCUs could develop the HBCU Energy Research Institute. The institute could conduct research in agriculture, water, wind, business, etc. The institute could conduct research anywhere in the world, in Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, or Kenya. The HBCU Energy Research Institute could lease 20,000 acres of land in Louisiana or Brazil and create ethanol from sugar cane. It could grow switch grass in Africa. It could collect algae from the Atlantic Ocean.
It would be truly wonderful to have such a research institute based in Liberia. This would certainly help the economic recovery of Liberia, the nation of our forefathers.
The organizations which make these types of efforts work do not have the little skillets. They have big frying pans. I encourage you to keep the little pans for parties, dances, golf tournaments, conventions, etc. Can we dare to get some big frying pans and during the next twenty years make a “big difference?”
If you truly understand capitalism, you know that HBCU National Alumni Association members would not necessarily be workers in these projects. The HBCU National Alumni Associations would control capital which hires leadership and management talent to execute each project for the Association.
The fourth “Big Fish” we need to catch certainly needs a “big skillet” or “frying pan”.
INCREASING AFRICAN AMERICAN PROFESSIONALS
The HBCU National Alumni Associations must take on the responsibility for replacing African American professionals.
African American professionals are declining each year due to age and death.
Who is responsible for replacing the African American Educators, namely, University Presidents, Professors, Superintendents, High School Principals, Vice Principals, and teachers?
Qualified professionals are being imported into the United States from countries all around the world: Nurses from the Philippines, Scientist from Europe, and Engineers from India.
HBCU National Alumni Associations should take on the responsibility of increasing:
- Health Professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, and Dentist,) How many podiatrists are in your community? There are less than 40 African American podiatrist in Texas for a Texas population of 23,507,783 (2007).
- Lawyers (Corporate, Immigration)
- Bankers (Investment Bankers & Owners)
- Professional Trained Ministers
- Engineers and Architects
- City Planners
- Agricultural Scientists
- Agricultural Economists
- Military Personnel
- Other Professionals
I wish to close with a final suggestion for the need of a big skillet or frying pan.
Perpetuation of HBCU National Alumni Associations by recruiting African American students to attend HBCUs and African American Faculty to work at HBCUs.
HBCU National Alumni Associations should assist their HBCU in recruiting qualified African American faculty. While diversity in ethnic background should be encouraged and maintained. HBCUs must not lose its historical identity. This identity is essential to maintain balance in the democracy. A pluralist balance in society gives strength to the democracy. Ethnic groups maintain loyalty to their own group identity. The University of Texas would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from Yale. The University of St. Thomas would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from non-Catholic institutions. Baylor University would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from the University of Punjab. HBCUs will lose its identity if the majority of its faculty is no longer African American.
There was a time when HBCUs could not pay competitive salaries. Faculty came to the HBCU because of loyalty to the philosophy of HBCUs. HBCUs are now paying competitive salaries. The demand for qualified African American faculty and administrators must be met by an active recruitment program of African American professionals.
While diversity is important, there is a need for a faculty and administration to carny on the spirit and traditions of HBCUs.
Recruitment has two parts: Faculty and Students
The HBCU National Alumni Associations must have a student recruitment program throughout their states in key cities and throughout the nation and world.
One of the most ciritical national needs is for professional nurses. HBCU Colleges of Nursing has space to graduate thousands of nurses per years, which is double its present graduation rate. HBCU National Alumni Associations ccould place student center recruiter teams in 50 city sites in each state and 40 in the nation and recruit 2 students from each site and the freshmen nursing enrollment would exceed thousands of students.
This model could be duplicated for recruiting:
- Elementary School Teachers
- Science Teachers
- Math Teachers
- Reading Teachers
- Business Majors
- Agriculture Majors
- Pre-Med Majors
- ROTC Graduates
To accomplish this task, the HBCU National Alumni Associations need a big frying pan – because we are talking about big fish.
There are many big fish which are available to HBCU National Alumni Associations in the economic, political, and other rivers, lakes, streams, and other human endeavor. I pray that each one of you and the entire HBCU National Alumni Association will reflect on this message and look forward to answering the question: “Do HBCU National Alumni Associations need a big skillet with a resounding … YES! I close this visit with the Productive People of HBCUs with two of my favorite statements.
I have given you my best thoughts. If perchance I may have offended anyone please forgive me.
If you have heard me and understood what I said, my words are reflected in the thoughts of Robert Frost when he stated.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves not step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
On your way home at the close of this convention, please get the biggest skillet you can buy. A big skillet will make a big difference in your life and in the life of the HBCU National Alumni Associations.