Foundations Should Rescue Bennett

The sign at Bennett College, Greensboro NC

The sign at Bennett College, Greensboro NC
The Piedmont Triad is replete with agencies, organizations, churches, and businesses who routinely help those in need. We have food banks, homeless shelters, crisis centers, and free clinics. Our taxes go to help neighbors who lose their home to a natural disaster, and to those who lose their job through no fault of their own. We choose to lend a hand when necessary because that’s what communities do, and we do it without asking for collateral. One of our neighbors, Bennett College, could use a hand right about now. That’s because the clock is running out on Bennett, who must raise $5 million dollars by February 1, in order to regain their accreditation from SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

I won’t go off on a tangent about SACS, but suffice to say that organizations like that can’t always see the forest for the trees. Bennett College is and always has been academically sound, and has contributed greatly to the community and to the nation. Earlier this year I was reminded by the Reverend Jesse Jackson that it was Bennett women who sustained the Greensboro lunch counter protest in 1960. Without them, the movement for equal access might have died. Bennett has also strengthened our nation by turning out strong women leaders. On those two counts alone I’d say Bennett has plenty of collateral and plenty of credibility, and that’s why we owe it to Bennett, and to ourselves to keep the doors open at 900 East Washington Street.

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Jim, why can’t Bennett alum come up with the $5 million?” First of all, Bennett’s alumni base is small, and second, unlike most every other college in America, Bennett doesn’t have a cash-cow athletic program and a bunch of millionaire football boosters who can raise funds for a stadium expansion in a few hours. Money doesn’t grow on trees at Bennett because they’re not in the money business, they’re in the learning and leadership business. SACS doesn’t care about that because they have a cookie-cutter formula for how much money a college should have on hand, and to hell with what that college means and has meant to its students, to the community at large, and to the nation.

I’d like to think that, given time, individuals and groups in our area would send in enough donations to bail Bennett out. But time is what Bennett doesn’t have.

So what’s the solution? At the risk of sounding like Polyanna, I believe the best short-term solution is for college and community foundations and business foundations to come to the rescue. True, every foundation has its own specific mission, but that mission never operates in a bubble. UNCG, High Point University, GTCC, NC A&T, Guilford College, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, and others are all about improving quality of life and strengthening the community they serve, so, theoretically they could pledge enough funds to Bennett to keep the “accreditors” at bay. Once that’s done, Bennett would have some time to develop a long-term strategy for meeting and sustaining fiduciary requirements set by SACS.

Black History Month is just around the corner. So is the 59th anniversary of the lunch counter sit-in. Let’s mark those commemorations by supporting Bennett College, and contributing to the legacy of the young women who answered the call when America needed them. We all owe Bennett a debt of gratitude that’s worth a lot more than $5 million dollars. It’s payback time, folks.

 
 

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