Jussie Smollett, Julianne Malveaux Join Effort to Save Bennett College

Jussie Smollett and Julianne Malveaux (Credit: Deposit Photos and juliannemalveaux.com)

Prominent African-Americans from the entertainment, academic and religious communities are using their platforms to help save Bennett College.

The historically black women’s college in Greensboro, North Carolina, is on the brink of losing its
accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) amid financial instability and declining enrollment.

The oversight body announced on Dec. 11, that it would revoke the school’s membership, according to Greensboro TV station WFMY. Bennett College president Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins said the school will appeal the decision, and the college launched an effort to raise $5 million by Feb. 1.

After learning about the school’s plight, Empire actor Jussie Smollett and his brother, actor and producer Jake Smollett, joined the campaign to save the school.

The Smollett brothers took to their social media accounts to share a picture of themselves wearing #StandWithBennett T-shirts, and encouraged their followers to donate what they can.

“At our peak in the 1930s we had 121 HBCUs, now we’re down to 101,” Jussie wrote on Instagram. “Don’t let us be down to 100 if Bennett College, an institution who has made the education of black women a priority since 1926, closes its doors.”

There are currently just under 500 students enrolled  at Bennett College, according to published reports. In 2009 the school had 750 students. The college has been on probation for two years, but won’t get a third.

Economist, author, and commentator Dr. Julianne Malveaux is doing what she can to help.

Malveaux, who served as Bennett president from 2007–2012, posted an article on her blog to raise awareness.

“History belongs to she who holds the pen. That was my mantra at Bennett,” she wrote. “We need to tell Black women’s stories, and this is a place that reflects them. ”

“Bennett College has a unique history, and it is a history that must be preserved,” Malveaux added, along with details on how to donate.

Bennett College Chapel. (Credit: bennett.edu)
Bennett College Chapel. (Credit: Bennett.edu)

Meanwhile, Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, urged his church members to help.

On Sunday, Bryant took to social media to say New Birth would donate $12,000 to the school. In a video posted on Instagram, Bryant told members of his congregation about the value of investing in young people.

He added that the majority of HBCUs face financial challenges, and criticized the African-American community for not doing enough to support the schools.

“We show up for homecoming, but we don’t leave a check,” Bryant stated.

Ten years ago, Bennett College faced a similar crisis but was able to recover.

In recent years, the school has struggled to raise money and attract new students, leading to increased staff turnover and declining enrollment.

The school was founded in 1873 to educate freed blacks and emancipated slaves, according to the school’s website. In 1926, the private, four-year liberal arts school became a women’s college.

Bennett and Spelman College in Atlanta are the nation’s only existing historically black colleges for women.

If Bennett’s accreditation is removed, students may lose their credit hours when they transfer to other schools.

To donate, go to www.bennett.edu/donate.