The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest and Philadelphia’s largest newspaper serving the African-American community, honored 10 people who have been named Philadelphia’s “Most Influential” African Americans, at a private reception for 400 guests on Thursday evening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The guest list included elected officials, education leaders, businesspersons, community activists and labor leaders.
“It is a significant opportunity for us, because we are the only people in this town to recognize men and women who make the contributions to this city, and frequently this nation, who go unrecognized,” said Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle.
“And so we made a commitment to make sure we are included - all those who are entitled to equal access and opportunity, and those who make an impression and influence the decisions that make us a better community.”
In addition, Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, and Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, received special recognition for their impact on the community at large. The Philadelphia Tribune also commemorated Cheyney University for its 175th anniversary.
“We have been doing this for more than 10 years,” said Tribune Magazine Editor Shonda McClain. “This is a great event for us to honor our own, and to celebrate their accomplishments. These are the people that people don’t always know about - the people in the trenches – that are doing the hard work everyday, and this our way of saying, thank you, and honoring those people for the work that they do and the contributions that they make to our community.”
On Sunday Sept. 16, the Tribune will publish a special edition of Tribune Magazine, featuring its annual list of 10 People Under 40 to Watch, African-American Leaders, and Movers & Shakers of the Delaware Valley, who demonstrate leadership beyond their positions.
Odunde 365, producers of the annual Odunde Festival, presented an one-of-a-kind evening on Wednesday at the African American Museum of Philadelphia (AAMP) with some of Philadelphia’s top leaders of color.
Moderated by local businessman A. Bruce Crawley, “My Story” shared the personal stories of triumph and success of Sen. Anthony Williams, Willie F. Johnson, founder/chairman of PRWT Services, Inc. and Robert W. Bogle, Publisher and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune in front of over 50 guests. Wednesday’s event was the second series.
While all of the panelists were unified in eschewing the term “legend,” they each recalled the path they took to success. PRWT was launched in 1988 as a result of an alliance Johnson made with Lockheed Martin IMS, the state and local government division of the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
During Johnson’s reign as CEO, PRWT grew into a 1,500-person operation with workers in eight states including Washington, D.C.
“There is something very unique about Black enterprise: most Black enterprises develop and grow with in their own community and within their own region because they are depending on their relationships with politicians, etc., for market share and a whole a lot of other things,” Johnson said. When asked about his personal management style the answer, he replied: “I am me … I call it like I see it—and then get scared later.”
Bogle, who recalled that he joined The Tribune in 1970 selling advertising, responded in kind:
“Johnson and I are absolutely and unequivocally together: I've rolled the dice a few times. It's not easy being Black and a world that is controlled financially by non-African Americans. So, you can go and say I don't give a damn but you're not going to win. So, Mr. Johnson is right: you've got to find some balance. Balance doesn't mean you say, 'yes massa,' so don't go too far. It means that you have to feel good about who you are; you have to be willing to say what you believe and in doing so that doesn't mean you get out of character and call people a bunch of dirty names. You say, sometimes we left the social skills to deal with situations that we need to be better at, so I'm not ready to say massa and I'm not ready to give that up and I'm not ready to say good morning white, but what I am prepared to do is let him know that I am as prepared as any as anybody he knows — whether they’re white or Black. I'm prepared to do that job."
Williams, a lifelong resident of West Philadelphia, remembered his life as the son of the popular late Sen. Hardy Williams. During the event he took to social media to tweet a thank you to the organizers for "forcing us to talk about issues concerning (the African-American) community."
Earlier in the week, Odunde's Executive Director, Oshun Bumi Fernandez told WDAS’ Patty Jackson that “the most important thing about this “My Story” event is that it is in their own words. One will not be able to find this information on the resume; you won't be able to Google it, so you have to hear it in your own words. How I came upon this idea was that me and my partner, Tiffany Nunez, realize there are a lot of young people that have problems finding mentors, and think that people just wake up and they are successful. But, there are a lot of sacrifices that takes place.”
For more Odunde365 information, visit http://odundefestival.org/odunde365.html
Graduation is a milestone. And with one week away from embarking on a journey of new experiences, life changes and countless opportunities, several students in the Class of 2012 have more to celebrate.
The Philadelphia Tribune and Wells Fargo Student Achievers Reception recognized 66 high school seniors — who have made academic accomplishments while under challenging circumstances — on June 6 at the Union League of Philadelphia.
The Tribune’s president and CEO, Robert W. Bogle, greeted the students and their families and gave a congratulatory message.
“Today we honor students who have displayed an unwavered commitment to academic excellence,” he said. “Despite a number of challenges and obstacles, our student honorees, have managed in a very meaningful way to achieve something that will be important for many of your tomorrows. And that is the first step towards this journey called success.”
Bogle also recognized Constance E. Clayton for attending the event. She is the first woman and first African-American superintendent of schools in Philadelphia.
Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan, vice president of community affairs manager of Wells Fargo was the master of ceremonies, and Rev. Tamieka N. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church gave the invocation.
Thomas Knudsen, acting superintendent and chief recovery officer of the School District of Philadelphia and Pedro A. Ramos, Esq., chairman of the School Reform Commission gave remarks.
“Each and every one of you graduates has marshaled his or her resources and accomplished something real and meaningful that will be with you for all the days of your lives,” he said. “And you have done so in the face of personal challenges that would have held others back. That makes you true heroes.”
“Commit to being an aggressively life long learner,” Ramos said. “Everyday for the rest of your life seek out new knowledge and better understanding of different cultures and different ideas.”
The keynote speaker, Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church offered words of encouragement to the students. While sharing the story of his life growing up, Johnson used an analogy of chickens and eagles. He challenged the students not to act as their peers and be timid, but be rare individuals who aren’t afraid to achieve success.
“Maybe you have gone through the struggles and challenges in your own life just so you can begin to fly,” Johnson said. “It’s now time for you to launch. And as you get ready to launch, I want you to know, don’t forget this moment when you heard someone tell you to not become a chicken, but to dare to become an eagle.”
Mayor Michael Nutter and Wells Fargo Regional President Vincent Liuzzi, were also in attendance. Liuzzi presented a $25,000 check to the City of Philadelphia Office of Education’s organization PhillyGoes2College, which helps Philadelphians of all ages earn a college degree.
Among the awardees at the reception was high school senior, Christopher Miller of Carver Engineering and Sciences High School. Miller said he was honored to be recognized.
“I’m proud of myself. I had no idea what is was at first, and then my mom told me and a couple kids from school told me,” Miller said. “It means a lot.”
This fall, Miller will attend Morehouse College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history, he plans to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Within his four years of school, Miller has lost both his maternal and paternal grandfathers to cancer. Despite this emotional burden, Leah Tate, Miller’s mother said that she is proud of his accomplishments and knew that he had the ability to push through.
“He was never the kid to stand outside,” Tate said. “He always went to school and home. Everybody knew that Chris is the scholar. I’m extremely proud. Christopher is extraordinary in many ways. He’s going to Morehouse College and he did everything on his own.”
She also encourages other parents with children entering high school in the fall.
“Besides starting to make sure that they stay active, but give a little,” Tate said. “Let them go out and experience things. Don’t be scared. I didn’t achieve it for myself, but I wasn’t scared for my son.”
Hundreds of faithful members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, well-wishers and supporters gathered at the First District Plaza, 3801 Market St. Thursday for the installation of Presiding Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram at the annual Fall Convocation.
Bishop Ingram, a native of Detroit, is the denomination’s 118th consecrated bishop. The First District AME Church is the oldest in the country, founded in 1787 by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia.
Robert W. Bogle, publisher of The Philadelphia Tribune, brought greetings to the bishop.
“He brings a new dimension to this city with a sense, I hope that you would agree with me, a rebirth. He comes after having honed his skills in many villages across this nation,” he said.
“He brings some new and meaningful changes for this church, and he certainly has some serious ideas about how we can move and make this a better community for all us.”
The crowd responded enthusiastically as members of the panel of ministers rose one by one to celebrate the bishop..
Ingram said the AME Church’s Fall Convocation brings together churches, ministers and congregations from as far away as Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Bermuda.
“This is done, first of all because Methodists are a denomination of people who report,” said Ingram. “We have people who are reporting various assessments. This is also where we get our marching orders, where God is leading us in the next six months or so.”
He described the Fall Convocation as “a checkup meeting or half-way point, a spiritual time during which members of the church envision God doing great things in their lives.”
“It’s just a phenomenal time, and every year we come with great expectations,” he said.
The Rev. William Watley, pastor of St. Phillip AME Church in Atlanta, said the Convocation brought together all the AME churches in the Northeast.
“They invited me to be a preacher, that’s all,” said Watley. “They get together here in the city where we were founded, on a regular basis.”
Watley told his listeners that if they were faithful, God would elevate them in time.
“Those who do not like us cannot stop what God wants to do for us,” he said.
The AME Church has membership in Episcopal districts spanning some 39 countries.
On Thursday Oct. 18 nearly a thousand people gathered in Philadelphia in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney is the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in America.
The founding of Cheyney was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000, one tenth of his estate, to design and establish a school to educate the descendents of the African race.
The evening gala was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Ballroom and launched the 2012 University Homecoming weekend.
“This event is extraordinary for many reasons,” said Cheyney University President Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph. D. “It celebrates the lives of those who have contributed to the legacy of Cheyney University through the 19th century, 20th century and 21st century. At a time when people are questioning the value f historically Black colleges and universities, it demonstrates that Cheyney University, which has always been a very, very small liberal arts and teachers college — has contributed significant value in terms of responsible contributing citizens to the commonwealth, and that we will continue to contribute to the commonwealth.”
The committee organizer and Cheyney alumna, Barbara Daniel-Cox, lined up an evening filled with entertainment by Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, Billy Paul, Amazin' Grace, Bill Jolly & TSOP Band and many more.
Hosting the evening of awards, dinner, entertainment and dancing was Philadelphia International Records co-founder, Kenny Gamble.
“One hundred and seventy-five years is an understatement and is just unbelievable when you just think about it,” remarked Gamble, who deemed himself “Honorary Cheyney person” during the VIP reception. “It is hard to think about something being able to last 175 years. You know, I remember Cheney when it was a state teachers college. Many of our teachers, especially African-American teachers, and opportunities came through Cheyney and it's still true today. I am happy to support Cheyney, and I think the whole community should support Cheyney because education is so essential for just surviving today.”
The black-tie event attracted many area notables including Cheyney graduates.
“For Cheyney it means another bright tomorrow, quite frankly,” said Philadelphia Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle, who is a Cheyney alumnus. “Cheyney has done so much for many of those from yesterdays that have had an enormous impact on our city, our state and our nation. I think this event makes it clear that our future is bright by the support that we have gotten for this event. As for what it did for me: I wouldn't be whatever you say I am if it had not been for Cheyney University, and all the men and women, faculty, staff who contributed. Because in those days, faculty and staff worked with you, they were a part of you, and it was important to them that you were successful. So, whatever I am, I owe it to Cheyney.”
The gala also marked the culmination of a $1 million donation campaign initiated nearly three years ago by the Cheyney University Alumni Association.
Feds could expand fraud probe of Kobie West
Federal investigators appear to be poring over the business dealings of insurance executive Kobie T. West in an effort to expand an investigation of fraud that started with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
The revelation emerged last week in federal court when Judge Joel H. Slomsky, who serves in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, spoke from the bench during a plea hearing for West.
Slomsky referred to a confidential plea agreement entered by West on May 18, in which West told federal investigators that he was “conspiring with another person to provide bribes and kickbacks to persons, including public officials known to the U.S. government, in order to maintain business for West Insurance.”
The judge later added that West was involved in “three to four other areas of cooperation with the government.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said she could not comment on, or even confirm the existence of, such an investigation.
“Everything in the Kobie West case is under seal,” said spokeswoman Patty Hartman. “So, there is nothing public and the practice is, in general, for investigations we don’t comment, confirm or deny.”
However, a source described as a “business acquaintance” of West’s said the insurance broker had deep political connections in the city and that reporters might be surprised at some of the names that emerged from “the shakeup” — hinting that federal authorities have expanded their probing beyond the PHA contracts.
The source declined to elaborate or speak on the record.
West’s company, the West Insurance Agency, a minority-owned firm, did much of its business through political contacts with public agencies.
According to a recent story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, West and his father, the firm’s founder Bernard West, were major political donors, contributing $95,000 to Pennsylvania politicians between 2000 and 2009.
The biggest beneficiary of the Wests’ largesse was state Rep. Dwight Evans, who received more than $38,000 from the father and son while he was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Other powerful politicians who received money from the pair were: former Gov. Ed Rendell, who received $16,500; former mayor John Street, to whom the pair gave $8,250; and Mayor Nutter, who received $5,000. Two disgraced former legislators also received cash: state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who got $4,500, and former House Speaker John M. Perzel, who received $5,000.
It is not the first time West’s business practices have been called into question. West was also named in the federal investigation at City Hall during Street’s tenure as mayor.
That investigation ended with the indictment of the late Ronald White, a friend of Street’s, and the conviction of former City Treasurer Corey Kemp.
On May 18, West pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
He told federal officials that he, with the help of accomplice inside the PHA, created a fake invoice of $2,141,523 for worker’s compensation coverage, then included a commission of $181,202.
A senior vice president at the West Insurance Agency, Edgar Bridges, has been sentenced to two years of probation for tax evasion as part of the investigation into the kickback scheme. He took “bonuses” totaling $65,000 from West while working at PHA and failed to report it on his income tax returns.
Bridges was sentenced last week by Slomsky. In addition to probation, he was fined $5,000.
In March, New Jersey Controller A. Matthew Boxer accused Tribune’s CEO and President Robert W. Bogle, a member of the Delaware River Port Authority’s board from 1997 to 2011, of steering authority business to West’s insurance firm, where Bogle was also a board member. He accused Bogle of steering a no-show contract to West.
The report quoted an email from William Graham of the Graham Company, the DRPA’s Pennsylvania insurance broker of record to Willis Holding Group, its New Jersey counterpart.
“Bob Bogle … and the Board of the DRPA expects these commissions to be paid to the West Agency, or another select MBE (Minority Business Enterprise).”
Bogle pointed to the report, quoting it “or another select MBE” and added, “Bogle never said a word about West.”
The company received $684,254 in commissions, but Boxer’s office was unable to determine what, if any services it provided.
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.
Port Authority board members deny wrongdoing
Accusations leveled in a new report by New Jersey’s controller claiming that board members of the Delaware River Port Authority use the agency as a “personal ATM” are unfounded, said two men named in the scathing report.
The 77-page report, released by Controller A. Matthew Boxer, accused DRPA officials from both sides of the Delaware River of funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to pet projects and friends.
“In nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, from DRPA commissioners to private vendors to community organizations,” Boxer said in a statement released with the report. “People with connections at the DRPA were quick to put their hand out when dealing with the agency, and they generally were not disappointed when they did.”
Officials at the Delaware River Port Authority routinely ignored financial safeguards, spending toll payers’ money on pet projects and steering funds to their cronies during years of “mismanagement and neglect,” Boxer said.
The investigation studied four broad areas of DRPA’s operations: Its dealings with insurance brokers, its economic development program, its social and civic sponsorship fund and reimbursements for business expenses.
Nearly $1.5 million was paid out in insurance commissions, the report found, “regardless of whether each of the brokers actually placed or assisted in placing DRPA insurance policies or … performed any service at all.”
The agency had a practice of “truing up” or making sure that equal funding was spent on vendors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
According to Boxer, the choice of a New Jersey broker was controlled by Democratic Party bigwig and insurance broker George E. Norcross III.
The controller based his charge on a 2002 email to Joseph Plumeria, CEO of the Willis Holding Group.
“Willis will be appointed as the co-broker of record … effective January 1, 2003, for the DRPA,” wrote Norcross, who did not work for the DRPA or serve on its board.
Willis then paid Norcross’s insurance company, Conner Strong and Buckelew, and another broker Michael Martucci, commissions of $455,000.
Norcross’ firm said the money was not commissions, but payments for referrals. The company denied any wrongdoing.
“The investigation has found nothing illegal, unethical, improper or in violation of any laws, statutes or regulations regarding … Mr. Norcross … or anyone associated with any of them or the agreement between Willis and [Conner Strong and Buckelew],” said company officials in a statement.
Norcross was reportedly out of town, and could not be reached for comment.
In terms of Pennsylvania business, Boxer alleges that Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle, who served on the DRPA board from 1997 to 2011, steered business to an insurance company called the West Insurance Agency, a Philadelphia based minority-owned firm where Bogle served on the board. The report again quotes an email, this one from William Graham of the Graham Company, the Pennsylvania broker of record to Willis, its New Jersey counterpart.
“Bob Bogle … and the Board of the DRPA expects these commissions to be paid to the West Agency, or another select MBE (Minority Business Enterprise).”
Bogle pointed to the report, quoting it “or another select MBE” and adding, “Bogle never said a word about West.”
The company received $684,254 in commissions, but Boxer’s office was unable to determine what, if any, services it provided.
Boxer also examined projects that received funding from the DRPA’s "social and civic sponsorship fund” set because “the vast majority of this funding . . . went to organizations linked to DRPA officials, or to organizations that provided a personal benefit to DRPA officials in exchange for the contribution.”
Bogle again drew Boxer’s attention.
According to the report, DRPA made 13 payments totaling $59,180 to the Tribune for half-page advertisements to congratulate local high school graduates, commemorate Black History Month and in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
“DRPA did not purchase similar advertisements in any other newspaper concerning these events,” wrote Boxer in the report, adding that the requests were not accompanied by a Community Giving Fund Application, which was required by DRPA rules.
“I did not, at any time, ask anyone at the port authority to do business with the Philadelphia Tribune,” responded Bogle, adding that DRPA did buy ads, but through the newspaper’s sales representatives.
There was nothing underhanded about the transactions, he said.
“I don’t consider the fact that they did business with the Philadelphia Tribune an impropriety,” said Bogle, adding that it seemed to make sense that the agency would advertise in a Black newspaper on the occasions that it did so.
“What other publication would they use?” he asked.
In addition, the report says Bogle, who is on the board of Mann Center for the Performing Arts, requested and received $5,000 for the organization’s gala. In return, the DRPA received tickets for dinner and to the Bolshoi Ballet, an event attended by several DRPA commissioners.
Bogle said he was unaware of the deal, and didn’t attend the event.
“I didn’t even know about it,” he said, adding that the entire report was based on innuendo.
Authority spokesman Timothy Ireland said in a statement that the authority has addressed many of the problems unearthed by the report.
“We take the concerns expressed by [the report] very seriously, and we will be taking steps to evaluate and address recommendations in the report as promptly as possible,” he said.
Boxer worried that toll payers have already suffered for years, and would continue to do so until all of his concerns were addressed.
“Toll payers have borne a financial burden attributable to years of mismanagement and neglect, and continue to do so for those failings that have yet to be rectified,” wrote Boxer.
DRPA operates the four toll bridges linking Philadelphia and New Jersey as well as PATCO, a light rail line from Center City Philadelphia to southern New Jersey.
Its board is made up of eight members from Pennsylvania and eight from New Jersey and headed alternately by the governors from each state.
Alumni and visitors got their first glimpse of Cheyney University’s new residence hall on Friday as the university threw open the doors of the first new dorm on campus in 30 years.
“It’s a gorgeous building,” said university President Michelle Howard-Vital. “So many alumni and people from the community have seen it going up and want to know what it looks like, so we invited them to visit the residence hall.”
Construction on the $44 million, 127,000-square-foot building started in June 2010. Students moved in on Aug. 22.
The building includes a variety of environmental and other features that are relatively new at Cheyney. They include a geothermal climate control system that enables central air and heat throughout the building, security cameras and key card access to suites, study rooms, and lounges throughout the building.
The residence hall, which brings the campus total to six, is home to 390 students, but it’s a lot more than that. It also includes seven study lounges, four social lounges, a computer lounge, recreational lounge and multipurpose room.
But, even more than that, it represents a new way of thinking at Cheyney.
“It’s a place that’s co-curricular with the academic community,” Howard-Vital said. “When you leave the classroom, you go there and continue to learn in a different manner.”
Officially, the building — called a living and learning center — is different from a traditional dorm, Howard-Vital said. The new hall combines living and learning spaces and is broken into “learning communities.” They are clusters of students with similar interests and attached to faculty advisors who provide additional learning opportunities for students that school officials hope will help Cheyney retain students. As examples, Howard-Vital cited science and technology groups, a communications group and a public service cohort.
The faculty advisors carry learning into the residence hall.
“They work with the students like a peer group to provide support, intellectual stimulation, engagement, so we can increase our retention numbers,” she said. “What research shows is that engaged students are more likely to be retained. They develop relationships that make them feel like they are part of a campus community.”
Howard-Vital credited Robert W. Bogle, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, as being one of the driving forces behind the new building.
“The university community thanks Chairman Bogle and the council of trustees for being strong advocates for getting this living learning community constructed,” she said. “When I came, the notion of a new residence hall was all over the place.”
Bogle, who is also president and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune, could not be reached for comment Friday, but said in a previous interview he was pleased to see Cheyney expanding.
“I’m pleased that we’re building this building. I hope it’s just the beginning of some other opportunities,” he said. “It’s shameful that it’s come so late in the life of this university.”
The new building is just part of a more comprehensive expansion plan.
“We’re hoping that it’s a new beginning,” said Sam Patterson, a university trustee and chair of the finance and administrative services committee. “Hopefully, it’s the first of several new buildings.”
Expansion plans include a new science center, an athletic center and more dorms.
Officials started with housing because it immediately creates more space.
“Hopefully, it adds to enrollment because young people want to know: ‘Where am I staying?’” he said.
Plans need the approval of the board of governors of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education, which approves all such projects for the state’s 14 universities.
“This will make us compatible with other state system schools as well as some other schools in the area,” Patterson said. “We’re hoping that Cheyney, with its unique mission and its unique set of requirements, that we’re going to be constantly lobbying the state to bring us up to speed and make us more competitive with other schools in the state system.”
Not everyone has access to influential, successful men whose stories can inspire and encourage them. This was the purpose behind the “My Story” forum held recently at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia in Center City Philadelphia.
Collective mentorship, or the mentoring of groups, was the goal of this forum in which three influential, black men had the opportunity to tell about their rise to success and power and what it took them to get there.
Panelists included Willie F. Johnson, founder and chairman of PRWP, Robert Bogle, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune, and state senator Anthony H. Williams. The event was moderated by an equally successful African-American business leader, A. Bruce Crawley of Millennium 3 Management.
“My Story came about when my partner and I, Tiffany Nunez, were brainstorming. We wanted to develop an event where people who don’t have access to powerful and influential people could come and hear their stories in their own words,” said Oshun Bumi Fernandez, executive director of Odunde, Inc.
Nunez, who co-founded the MyStory forum, said that the duo wanted to bring back the conversations which were once a historic part of African-American culture.
“We all learn from each other’s stories,” she said. “It goes back to those old cultural circles where we all shared, we had story telling and from that we received inspiration to move forward or to create something new.”
Nunez and Fernandez hopes to take such panels around the nation to inspire, encourage and uplift African-Americans throughout the country.
It is their hope that the spirit of Odunde, the annual festival, held each summer in South Philadelphia where African culture is emphasized, can live on throughout the year.
During the forum, each panelist had an opportunity to share personal stories of how they managed to attain their success as well as to share some of the personal challenges and obstacles they have had to overcome in order to do so.
The moderator and panelists kept the audience engaged by allowing them to raise questions of their own.
“We are going to give you information that you cannot get on the internet, we are going to give you information that the panelists would give their mentees,” said Crawley to the audience.
And they did.
There was no apparent posturing during the event as panelists opened up candidly about things such as opportunities for African-Americans in the nation, the performance of President Barack Obama.
Johnson shared with those gathered his experiences growing up and reflected on the days when he attended the University of Pennsylvania as a young black man dedicated to the empowerment of his people during the Civil Rights Movement and leading student walkouts, eventually finding a job at a youth detention center.
Bogle spoke of his experiences with his father, sometimes contentious, but which he remembered fondly as those which would later make him the success he is today.
“I started out as a child, my father worked at The Tribune so I worked at The Tribune,” he said. “I never thought, nor wanted to work, at The Tribune nor any other paper.”
In fact, Bogle’s first job was at an employment service where he helped find jobs for clients. He was later given an opportunity to work at The Tribune by a mentor, who encouraged him to consider working at the paper, and the rest is history.
Williams spoke of his growing up in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia and the influence which his father, the late Hardy Williams, have had on his life and how he later entered politics.
Crawley asked the panelists questions that required them to delve into their personalities.
About opportunities for African-Americans, Johnson expressed his belief that many of the opportunities fought for during the Civil Rights era no longer exist today.
“Coming out of Jim Crow and our discrimination, when that began to break, there was a scramble to make inroads for African-Americans,” Johnson said. “Those no longer exist. If I was coming up now, there was no way that I could have been able to make it.”
With safety nets disappearing and other opportunities reduced significantly, Johnson said that he is frightened for young African-Americans trying to make it today.
Bogle differed somewhat believing that opportunities still exist but they are different than in the past. Much of the opportunities for Back people, said Bogle, would come from Black people.
“We have forgotten who we are and what we need to do,” Bogle said. “We are never going to have anything until we decide we want something.”
Technology and its impact on their respective businesses, was another question posed to panelists.
“As technology has become more advanced, we can now do with fifteen people what used to take 100 people to do,” Johnson said.
Williams said as an elected official, technology is another means of communicating with the public and was absolutely essential to doing so successfully today.
“You cannot be in my business and not utilize technology,” he said.