Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Many parents worry about sending their children off to live at college for the first time. Last week, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves got the kind of phone call we all dread, mere hours after dropping off his son at Morehouse College. Today, he writes about that frightening experience and its impact on him, while the school’s president addresses security challenges and improvements on campus.
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By John Eaves
One week ago, I waited with much anticipation for the opportunity to “pass the torch” to my eldest son as he began his college career as a third-generation Morehouse Man. Thirty-four years ago my father passed the torch to me when he sent me off to Morehouse. His farewell advice to me was simple: “…make me proud, study hard, have fun, but don’t bring shame on the family name…”
I gave my son that same advice that day.
As I drove away from the Morehouse campus at 7 p.m. on Aug. 1, little did I know my son would soon be introduced to the harsh realities of urban life. At 9:09 pm, I received a disturbing phone call from Isaac telling me he had been robbed at gunpoint.
This was a wake-up call that shook me to my core. As a father, I am thankful and relieved that my son’s life was spared. I am also angry and dismayed at the cowardly, callous actions of the perpetrators. I’m not naïve. I know these crimes happen every day in our city. And I know this event drew attention from the media because I’m a public servant; a public servant who has been tackling this issue since I took office, but now with renewed purpose.
Given the dire national statistics, I am concerned about the future of African-American males in our community. Too many African-American boys drop out of high school, too many are in prison, and too many commit violent crimes upon others.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 844,600 African American males were in jail or prison in 2010, representing 40.2 percent of the incarcerated population, even though African-Americans males make up only 13.6 percent of the U.S. population.
Gun homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American teens. In 2012, the Children’s Defense Fund reported that “Young black males die from gun violence at a rate 2.5 times higher than Latino males, and eight times higher than white males.”
The status of African-American males in education is even more sobering. The Schott Foundation for Public Education reports that only 52 percent of African-American males who entered ninth grade in the 2006-07 school year graduated in four years.
I attended the Morehouse College commencement ceremony this past May, where President Obama said that there is “no longer any room for excuses for this generation of African-American men, and it is time for their generation to step up professionally and in their personal lives…”
I have heard the president’s clarion call loud and clear. From this day forward, I will change the dialogue of what others are doing to our communities, and focus on what we can do to change the pathological self-destructive behavior that is occurring within our own communities.
Within the next few weeks, I am launching three new initiatives; the Smart Justice Coordinating Council, a Juvenile Justice Summit and a University Presidents’ Roundtable on campus security. I hope you will join with me and support these efforts. In the end, we must each hear the call. We must respond and ask ourselves, “What will we do?”
Dr. John H. Eaves, chairman of Fulton County Board of Commissioners, is author of the “Morehouse Mystique: Lessons to Develop Black Men.”
By Tom Sabulis
Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. answers questions about campus security:
What are the special challenges of security on a major city campus?
“At Morehouse, we are proud of the fact that we are integrated into the very fabric of Atlanta. Our students enjoy the benefits of receiving a quality liberal arts education – plus the benefits of living and learning on a campus in the midst of a vibrant economic and cultural center.
But our urban Atlanta location does come with its share of challenges. We are affected by what goes on in the city – particularly in the West End neighborhoods adjacent to our campus that have high rates of crime, drug trafficking and gang activity. We don’t just observe these problems. Our students, faculty and staff are actively engaged in a variety of community service projects designed to help elevate the condition of our neighbors. Still, our students are especially vulnerable to being taken advantage of by criminals. So, we have to educate them to be safe without making them be afraid.”
You’ve dealt with shootings, sexual assault and robbery in recent months at or near Morehouse. What is the general sense of security on campus?
“Despite these incidents, I believe that most people still feel very safe at Morehouse. Safe, but motivated. The motivation comes from the fact that violence of any kind goes against our values as an institution, which has a legacy of nonviolent leadership. So, when we are impacted by violence or criminal behavior, we immediately question what more we can and should be doing to ensure that our values are not violated, either by Morehouse or non-Morehouse people. One of the ways we are answering this question is to rethink the impact of larger social problems and issues on our student enrollment policies and student development programming, as well as safety and security measures on and around campus.”
How do you improve security?
“We have a huge emphasis on forging a new and vigorous partnership with the mayor and the City of Atlanta. We are looking for Mayor Reed to be more vocal and visible about safety in our environment. I have spoken with him twice about this and I know he cares a great deal.
At Morehouse, we recognize that there is no one solution to the challenge of campus safety so, beginning this semester, we are increasing the presence of Morehouse police officers on campus and we are also expanding our partnership with the Atlanta Police Department. We have new security tools on campus, including additional cameras and alarms, as well as new security policies and procedures.”
In May, you said Morehouse would be more aggressive on crime. How are you doing that?
“We are being very aggressive . We continue to build on Morehouse’s long-standing relationships with the City Council and Atlanta Police — as well as with my fellow presidents of the Atlanta University Center schools — to advocate for more and better support from the city to protect our campuses and stop crime in our community.”