American Baptist College Gala: A Music City Hit

President Harris receives Gold Record from Marie Sueing, Vice President, Multicultural Community Relations-Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation and First Lady Jackie Harris receives a signature Bag of Nashville goodies. Photos by Kelvin Braxton and Kia Jarmon

Staff Reports

NASHVILLE, TN — The American Baptist College President’s Scholarship Gala has been regarded a major hit in Music City, receiving a Gold Record. This ABC Hit was evident by the presentation of the Music City signature Gold Record presented to President Harris by Marie Sueing of the Nashville Convention and Visitors’ Corporation.  “We are extremely proud of the work that has been done at ABC for 95 years and the progress taken place under the leadership of Dr. Forrest Harris for the past 20 years,” said Sueing.

The purpose of the scholarship event was to raise funds for students.  “We want our students in the scholarship line, away from financial aid, so they can fully concentrate on their studies while in school and their chosen careers, once they graduate.  We are doing what we can to keep their debts low to non-existent,” said President Harris.

The College proudly celebrated two milestones. The 95th anniversary of the College and the 20th anniversary of Dr. Forrest Harris as president.  “These special combined recognitions placed the College ‘down front and center’ in the Nashville educational, faith-based, business, as well as the civic and social arenas,” said Board Chair, Rev. Dr. Don Darius Butler.

The event focused on the full history of the College, including Civil Rights activist and former ABC president, Dr. Bernard Lafayette; White House Initiative on HBCU’s Advisor, Dr. Leonard Haynes and gospel music artist and producer, Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones. Furthermore, the audience was filled with influencers, such as Brenda Wynn, Davidson County Clerk,  Gail Williams, Vanderbilt Community Service, Vanderbilt Dean of Divinity, Dr. Emilie Townes, Lipscomb Dean of Divinity,  C. Leonard Allen, Nashville Civil Rights activists Frankie Henry, Gloria McKissack, Rev. Troy Merritt and King Hollands to name a few. 

Prior to the scholarship event, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, returned to Woolworths on 5th for a luncheon session with students and other civil rights activists to help them understand the role ABC played in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s.  “I wanted the students to understand the gains they enjoy, the sacrifices made for them and what they must continue to do moving forward,” said Lafayette.  One student who heard the story of Frankie Henry having a cigarette butt put out on her skin, boldly said “I might put up with the harassment, but I would have to jump if a cigarette was put on my skin,” said Mondai Smiley from Detroit.  However once meeting Mrs. Henry, she understood what true sacrifice meant for a cause bigger than oneself. “I get it, said Mondai, but I am not sure I could do it.”  Because of those Civil Rights activist students, ABC boasts of two Presidential Medal of Honor recipients; Congressman John Lewis and Dr. C.T. Vivian, both tirelessly involved in the movement.

Leonard Haynes, was an executive in the U. S. Department of Education when ABC applied for HBCU status.  He communicated with former Institutional Advancement Executive Director, Regina Prude on this project.  “I worked with the College in this process and proud of what ABC has accomplished,” said Haynes. The College was granted HBCU status in 2013. 

ABC also introduced its newest initiative, SEAL-Social Justice, Advocacy, Equity and Leadership. It is designed to attract, educate, and develop the next generation of indigenous community –based, equity-informed leaders. “It will utilize a curriculum linking undergraduate coursework, secondary school enrichments and civic education for youth in or from our community said Dr. Phyllis D. K. Hildreth, vice president of Strategy, and Institutional Advancement and director of the SEAL program.

This event was all about the students.  Attendees were able to see them as greeters, hosts and performers.  An ABC alum, Jeremiah Parks was praised because he was a Belmont Contribution Scholar, who graduated from ABC and has returned as a staff member. The students were also outstanding in their musical performances.  “I was so proud of our students in every way, and the musical performance blew me away,” said President Harris. 

ABC has been located in North Nashville off Trinity Lane for all of its 95 years, affectionately called ‘The Holy Hill.’.  It has seen highs and lows and continues to push forward with a foundation in theology and a social justice lens, offering bachelor degrees with an emphasis in Bible and Theology, Arts and Music, Entrepreneurial Leadership and Behavioral Studies.   “I am grateful to have served as president for two decades and most appreciative of what ABC has done. I know the College has a bright future as we press forward on the Road to 100,” said President Harris.

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