As South Florida celebrates Black History Month, many may not realize that the area is home to a historically Black university, Florida Memorial University.
FMU's president Dr. Jaffus Hardrick, told NBC 6 they are still fighting racism and also said the institution is fighting a financial war that has been building over decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic exasperated it.
Florida Memorial University's rich history dates back to 1879 when the institution launched to educate Blacks who were banned from attending college in the segregated South.
Angry white mobs ran professors and students first from FMU's Live Oak campus, then Jacksonville and from St. Augustine twice. Hardrick said it was the final attack on the institution in St. Augustine that led the University to seek refuge in Miami.
The University has been in Miami Gardens since the early 1960s.
Even with that racial tumult, talent flourished at the historically Black college. The Negro National Anthem, now rebranded the Black national anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," was born on campus in 1900. Brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson penned the song that is now sung worldwide.
Decades later, the best and the brightest continued to take flight at FMU. In 2007, alumnus Barrington Irving became the youngest person to pilot a plane solo around the world. He built his own plane and found his funding because most prominent companies shunned the project.
But despite lots of highs, the University recently had to endure an ugly and alarming low reminiscent of threats of church bombings and buildings burning of the Jim Crow South.
The FBI Terrorism Task Force is now investigating January 4th phone calls that bombs had been planted on FMU's grounds. Luckily, police found no explosives.
Another blow came when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission placed the University on probation. In June, FMU officials will meet with the board again.
"I'm confident that they're going to restore us to our former status and remove the probationary status from us," Hardrick said.
Hardrick added the turnaround from probation is already in motion. Enrollment is up 1500% from a decade ago and once deteriorating buildings have been refurbished. In addition, the campus is now wholly wireless and boasts new academic programs, both in-person and online.
Chariman of the Board of Trustees and FMU graduate William McCormick said HBCU’S still provide opportunities and culture vital to Black students and to the nation. Third-year medical and biology student Carlisa Ferguson says FMU has provided more than an education. She's been fully immersed in the Black experience and she says it has given her a sense of pride and joy of being Black that only an HBCU can provide.
Hardrick said the FMU Lions will roar back financially and academically,
"I brought football back after 62 years, right? We just completed our first full season," he said. "I started a band called the Marching Roar and after one year of existence, ESPN ranked our band number one in the nation among HBCUs within Division Two. So, that speaks volumes to the kind of success we’re experiencing."
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