Bennett College Nat’l Alumna Pres. Supports “A Call to Colors” a GDN Exclusive Part XVIby Cash Michaels, Contributing Writer July 20, 2018
Vote like a Bennett Belle!
If anyone knows the vital importance of civic engagement on an historically black college and university (HBCU) campus, it is Ms. Gwendolyn Mackel Rice, President of the Bennett College for Women National Alumni Association.
As said many times before, the very history and culture of Bennett, a private HBCU in Greensboro, more than compliments Greater Diversity News’ nonpartisan
“A Call to Colors” student voter registration campaign on all HBCU campuses throughout North Carolina, in time for this fall’s important midterm elections.
That commitment to engaging HBCU students through sororities, fraternities and other student-based campus organizations, in addition to faculty and staff, should be coveted by all schools, President Rice maintains.
“It is particularly important,” the proud Class of ’61 alumna told GDN during a recent phone interview from her home in Chicago. “I grew up in a home where in Mississippi my father had people to sign petitions to get to vote back in the ‘50’s.”
Ms. Rice also remembers in the early sixties when “Bennett Belles” had an institute every year where students went out and registered people to vote. And yes, Ms. Rice was there at Bennett in 1958 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to campus to speak, and also there when Bennett students originally planned to do protest against segregation policies, that ultimately evolved into the historic Greensboro Four Woolworth lunch counter sit-in.
Rice makes clear that the HBCU students of her era absolutely could not take the power of their votes for granted, because their very freedom was on the line. She says, given the current political atmosphere, the stakes are just as high.
“We’re in a point in history where …the rug is being pulled from under us, it always has been,” Ms. Rice said. “But it’s more obvious now, and more critical now that everybody get onboard, not just HBCU students, [though] we should take the lead, obviously.”
“Not only the lives of our people, but the lives of our institutions are being threatened in so many different kinds of ways (like attracting black students to “TWI’s,” Rice said, meaning traditionally white institutions, but then “not supporting them”).
“It’s really important for us to be vigilant, and for our students, and our young people to be very civically engaged. Ms. Rice continued. “I think the vote is more important than ever.”
She added that HBCUs must also “be leaders” in voter education and voter registration in their communities.
Gwendolyn Mackel Rice calls herself, “Just a plain old Bennett Belle, noting that the school did not have sororities on campus during her time there.
GDN’s strategy for “A Call to Colors”
GDN’s strategy for “A Call to Colors” response is quite simple and powerful. Ask all alumni associations, at all levels, to create standing committees for non-partisan civic engagement. They would ask their members to volunteer 8, 16, 24 hours or more per election cycle, to help mobilize Black voter participation. Volunteer activities could include making telephone calls, Facebook posting, door knocking, organizing their churches or other community-based organizations, Greek organizations, working polls, supporting the NAACP and more.
GDN recommends that Alumni Association urge all HBCU Student Government Associations (SGAs) to make similar civic engagement pledges. SGAs should have twice a year student rallies promoting civic engagement and student organizations. “A Call to Colors” is a suggestion that appeals to student and HBCU Alumni members sense of community responsibility.
Ms. Rice joins Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins; Dr. Jimmy Jenkins, President of Livingstone; Dr. Everett Ward, President of St. Augustine’s University; Warren Arrington, President of the Livingstone College National Alumni Association; Dr. John Larkins, president of the St. Augustine’s University National Alumni Association; Raymond Privott, President of Fayetteville State University’s National Alumni Association; Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC-1); Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12); NC Secretary of Veteran Affairs Larry Hall; Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, pres. of the NCNAACP; newly appointed State Senator Milton “Toby” Fitch, who is also “Most Worshipful Grand Master State of NC and Jurisdiction of the Prince Hall Mason Lodge; Dr. Lavonia Allison, former Chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People; Charles Warren, Chairman of the NC Black Leadership Caucus; and N. Carnell Robinson, past chairman of the NC Black Leadership Caucus, Andrea Harris, Senior Fellow of the Durham-based Self-Help Credit Union; John C. Easterling III, president of the College Democrats of North Carolina and Robert Stephens, founder of the HBCU Collective, in endorsing the “Call to Colors” civic engagement campaign.
The “Call to Colors” campaign is working to formally engage with the Pan-Hellenic Councils, the NCNAACP, the NC Black Leadership Caucus, and the Prince Hall Masons and the Eastern Star, among others, to support the effort.
Ms. Rice also joins other black leadership who endorse the “Call to Colors” action plan recommendation to subscribe to Greater Diversity News for free, weekly Civic Engagement Project eNews at www.greaterdiversity.com.