Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is marking 175 years of providing educational opportunities to African Americans.
Cheyney President Michelle Howard-Vital said the milestone provides a spotlight on the significant accomplishments and contributions made by Cheyney’s founders, faculty members, staff, stakeholders and alumni.
“This is a time to honor them. It’s also a time to help people in the commonwealth realize the value that Cheyney University has had for three centuries, and for more than 10,000 students and their families,” said Howard-Vital.
That value is apparent at Cheyney’s annual commencement ceremonies, which typically draw more than 2,000 family members of about 250 graduates.
For many graduates, Howard-Vital said, the occasion often the marks the significance of being the first in their family to obtain a college degree.
“It’s also a symbolic transition from maybe a life of low income to a life of potential,” she said.
“I think that signifies what Cheyney University has done for 175 years — and it’s one of the reasons why the Quakers started the university — because they wanted to enable people of African descent to be able to make a livelihood.”
The nation’s oldest institution for African Americans was established through the bequest of Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist. After seeing African Americans lose employment to skilled immigrants, he provided $10,000 in his will to start a school that would teach African Americans the skills needed to be more competitive in the job market. The school was founded by the Quakers on Feb. 25, 1837, as the African Institute.
The school was renamed the Institute of Colored Youth. In 1902, the school purchased a farm owned by another Quaker, George Cheyney, and relocated 25 miles west of Philadelphia. In 1914, the school was renamed the Cheyney Training School for Teachers. The institution became Cheyney State College in 1959, and in 1983, it joined the State System of Higher Education as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
The Institute for Colored Youth offered basic subjects such as reading, writing and math as well as mechanics and agriculture.
Members of the school’s faculty and administration left their mark on the school’s legacy such as Fanny Jackson Coppin, the first African-American woman to receive the title of school principal, and Leslie Pinckney Hill, who served as the institution’s administrator for 38 years.
The school has produced historic pioneers such as activist Octavio Catto and Julian Abele, a prominent African-American architect.
Today Cheyney offers baccalaureate degrees in more than 30 disciplines and a master’s in education.
Many Cheyney graduates have gone on to become educators, surgeons, physicians, attorneys, scientists, entrepreneurs and political analysts.
Some of Cheyney’s distinguished alumni include former CBS News journalist Ed Bradley; former Temple basketball coach John Chaney; U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon; Robert L. Wooden, founder and president of the National Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington, D.C. and Robert W. Bogle, publisher and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune.
Now Cheyney officials are gearing up to make more advances with the 2013 opening of the $22 million Center for Excellence for Research and Applied Sciences. Construction is underway on the 39,970 square foot science center, which was launched in response to the regional needs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
The Tom Joyner Foundation has kicked off a three-month fundraising drive for the university. The drive is a part of foundation’s efforts to assist Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Cheyney will be promoted by the Tom Joyner Morning Show and will receive funds raised from listeners, alumni and other parties. Funds received will be used to provide support for Cheyney’s Call Me Mister (Mentors Instructing Students Towards Effective Role Models) teaching preparation program.
The Cheyney University National Alumni Association (CUNAA) is hosting a 175th anniversary gala on October 18 at 6 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch Street.
“It’s a historic occasion but it’s also about honoring a legacy of struggle, of perseverance, of overcoming the odds and of African people having the initiative to take it to another level,” CUNAA President Junious R. Stanton says of the university’s significant milestone.
“We are standing on their shoulders, so what we are attempting to do is to keep the legacy alive by providing scholarships and showing that the alumni are actively involved in the survival and the renaissance of the institution.”
Proceeds from the gala will place the alumni association closer to its goal of raising $1 million for student scholarships. The alumni association has raised almost $900,000 over a three year period.
The gala will be hosted by Kenny Gamble and features Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, Billy Paul, Amazin’ Grace, Bill Jolly and the TSOP Band, Cheyney University Concert Choir and an after party with the Urban Guerrilla Orchestra.
The Men of BACA and alumni who have made significant financial contributions to the university will be honored during the event.
General tickets are $175. For ticket information contact (215) 843-2027 or visit www.cheyneyfoundation.org.