By Jasmin Dysard
“We at Barber-Scotia College believe that human dignity is an endowment from God and that all persons have the responsibility for developing their potential to the fullest and for devoting their creative energies toward making a better world.” So reads the first sentence of the Barber-Scotia College mission statement. “There will always be a need for Barber-Scotia,” said Carl M. Flamer, President since June 2006 of Barber-Scotia College, as he addressed the audience at the Barber-Scotia College Alumni Prayer Brunch and fund-raiser held at the Berean Baptist Church in Brooklyn on Saturday, November 17.
Church members, Barber-Scotia alumni and faculty, family, friends and well wishers gathered in the spacious Berean Church basement for prayer, music, dance, good food, celebration and the opportunity to salute and raise money for the 140-year-old HBCU founded by a Presbyterian Reverend in 1867, originally as an all-African-American women’s school.
After a formal welcome from college alumna, and President of the New York Alumni Chapter, Alma Clark, guests were treated to a superbly sung musical solo by Berean Baptist Church member Gwen Davis Young. A tasty brunch of scrambled eggs, sausage, crispy bacon, biscuits, fried whiting, fried apples, creamy grits, toast and beverages were served afterward. More crowd-pleasing musical acts followed including the Brooklyn-based band Twins & The Sons of Glory, violinist Laticia Lewis and singer Gina Fletcher. Spiritual dance routines from the Master Mime Ministry and New Generation Praise Dancers also drew applause and standing ovations from the crowd.
But the event was about more than food, music and dancing. A video presentation, “Long Live Barber-Scotia”, gave those in attendance who may not have known the history of Barber-Scotia a history lesson on the institution: Barber-Scotia College was originally named Scotia Seminary, when it was founded by the Reverend Luke Dorland. Reverend Dorland was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to establish a learning institution in the South for African-American women who were the daughters of newly freed slaves. The college’s purpose originally was to train the women to become teachers and social workers. However, it later became known for graduating more business administration majors than any other major, and is currently transitioning to become a 4-year Entrepreneurial and Business College. The school was christened Barber-Scotia College in 1932 after merging with Barber Memorial College of Anniston, Alabama. In 1954, Barber-Scotia became coed and was admitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Its most famous alum is probably educator, civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University Ms. Mary McLeod Bethune. It continues to be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The college has faced setbacks in recent years including losing its accreditation, which cut off federal funding and UNCF funding, that make up about 90% of the funding the college typically receives. This is why fund-raising events such as this are vital to the college’s continued existence. I asked President Flamer, who received his BS from Barber-Scotia in 1974 and who also chooses not to accept a salary as president of the school, why Barber-Scotia lost its accreditation and if he feels that Black America supports its institutions, financially and otherwise, as much as it should. He said that Barber-Scotia losing its accreditation “really had to do with offering a program to individuals in another county, and unfortunately, the person who was in charge of that program didn’t communicate what the program was about. . . . Because of the irregularities related to that, it actually resulted in some people receiving degrees at that program who in fact had not met all the requirements.” When asked if Black America supports its institutions as much as it should he replied, “I would certainly say that I think too often we do forget to support our historically Black institutions. I think one of the things we as a people have basically are our churches and our schools, and we’re losing too many of our schools. I think since 1983 we’ve either lost or had institutions lose their accreditations somewhere in the vicinity of about 30 schools, and that’s a lot of schools since 1983. I think that there’s really no excuse. We are the best educated generation; we are also the wealthiest generation, and when you think about what our forefathers did in terms of getting institutions started and supporting these institutions, we find that there’s just a major gap.”
The commitment and dedication of Barber-Scotia alumni to raising funds for their alma mater is a major part of the reason the institution continues to function, and several members of the alumni and prayer brunch committee were honored at the event including Ms. Claudia Umpthery, a 50-year alum of Barber-Scotia, who received a proclamation and plaque from a representative from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’ office. November 17 was also declared “Ms. Claudia Umpthery Day” in Brooklyn! Ms. Sarah J. Whitley-Brinson, Chairperson and member of Berean Baptist Church for forty-four years, retired educator and honorary alumna of Barber-Scotia since 1997 gave the closing remarks of the ceremony. “I went to four colleges here in New York, but I feel like I’m a graduate of Barber-Scotia,” she said. “When one takes on an endeavor, one must breathe life into it and make it happen.” The ceremony ended with raffle drawings in which guests won prizes and a closing prayer led by Ms. Evelyn Hyatt, a Barber-Scotia alum and chaplain.
Barber-Scotia College has been a historically Black institution for 140 years. And with the continued support of a dedicated alumni, a selfless president, the contributions of the public and lots of prayer, it will remain so for at least another 140 years.