Dear Old Morehouse

by Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes


Dear Old Morehouse,

I’ve been trying to avoid writing this for some time now. As an alumnus of the institution, it’s hard for me to see you in such condition. Many of my fellow alumni complained of your disrepair and your besmirched image when they heard about students being beaten for their sexuality, shooters graduating, and cross-dressing, but I have bigger concerns. While all these things mattered to me, they did not disturb me because of what was being done to the image of our institution; they disturbed me because they demonstrated that Dear Old Morehouse was terribly unequipped to deal with the realities and lives that Black men in America live now. In fact, it is the Old Morehouse that is more dangerous to me than any student with a gun, sagged pants, or high heels would ever be. Let me explain.

When I visited Morehouse for the first time, it was about 1994, I remember seeing hanging banners and brochures that talked about the development of leaders, community servants, and caring connected brothers. The culmination of these developments was to be the Morehouse Man. I remember reading about the crown that Morehouse held up for its students so that one day they too would embody the Morehouse Mystique. I was sold. I was ready to be in that number. I was ready to be at the only institution of higher education dedicated fully to the education of men of African descent in the United States. But like most things, I soon found out all that glittered was not gold.

When I arrived, I remember hearing brothers commonly refer to the Morehouse Mistake, not Mystique. I remember seeing Samuel L. Jackson toted out as a shining alumnus, only to learn he was actually kicked out while he was there. I was there when I realized Morehouse students had no trouble admitting rape happened, but sadly refused to admit that Morehouse students could or would rape their Spelman sisters. I know, now I’m airing dirty laundry, in your eyes, but hear me out. Morehouse, if you are committed to Black men, then you’ve got to do better. You, no WE, have got to work to make better men for the 21st century, not the 20th. It often feels like each time I hear about your “new moves” and “plans” you’re becoming more committed to making a middle class Black man who would exist in the 1950s or 60s, not in 2009. From clothing to interviews, Dear Old Morehouse, there is much more happening with and to Black men than you’re equipped to handle.

See, in the past, Morehouse was about accepting and graduating the “cream of the crop” amongst the Black bourgeoisie and claiming the production of the Black intelligentsia. We all know, at least at the House, that Martin Luther King, Jr. — our most well known alumnus– came from a relatively well-to-do background and he wasn’t the most stunning student. But it would be on the red clay hills of Georgia that he got a deeper social, spiritual, and political education which would lead him to change the world. It is that image that you fed us and feed young brothers who come to the gates these days. You celebrate your role as one of the top feeders to graduate schools and Fortune 500 companies among institutions of higher education.  You highlight that our alumni are Rhodes Scholars, former surgeon generals and are changing the world around the globe, as many institutions do. The problem is, those men are the ones who made it, and it is likely that they still would have made it without Morehouse. Sometimes I think you point to exceptional success from the past in an effort to keep people from noticing what you are doing wrong or simply not doing it the present. So many who come to our campus, who desire to be better men, are not given what they need because you are asking them to trade themselves for your idea of success. Dear Old Morehouse, success does not look, sound, or feel the same for all.

I almost feel like you’re in denial; we can’t keep living a lie. I’ve got to tell you five things that you seem to deny too often. First, Affirmative Action did change you and who attended you. Affirmative Action allowed a number of the brothers who would have attended HBCUs in the past to attend traditional Ivys. We have to recognize that we don’t have the economic resources to compete with the Harvards, Yales or even smaller liberal arts schools. Many brothers get drawn to these schools because they have a financial safety net and set of offerings that make it difficult for them to sign on Morehouse’s dotted line. Second, the day of male breadwinner and unquestioned male leadership is done. While the sisters at Spelman were over there involved in the freedom struggle with us, they were also noticing we were often working on “liberation for half a race.” While we spend copious amounts of time sitting in orientations and Crown Forums that convince us that we’ve “made it” because so many brothers didn’t, we’re falsely inflating ourselves and using these bloated egos to plot the path towards a wayward progress. Third, style is one of hallmarks of Blackness. Spending time trying to reduce and refashion style is like harnessing youth, a noble thought but likely to leave you more embarrassed than successful. Hip-Hop culture is here to stay and reflects a lot of what we face as a people and what many in our community aspire to emulate. Hip-Hop culture is art and yes, art and life do imitate one another. Hip-Hop is, was, and shall be anti-establishment; the more you regulate it, the more it will battle you. Fourth, gay men are Morehouse Men and they should no longer be silent and covering. For too long, Morehouse treated gay and queer brothers like the Loch Ness monster, often talked about but never fully confirmed. News flash: being non-heterosexual is neither a psychological nor a social deviance. It’s reality! Fifth, Black boys are in crisis and you have to adapt to this crisis as well. With 50% of Black boys who begin high school in the inner-city not graduating with their classmates on time, you must realize your pool of applicants and admits is going to look different. These brothers mostly come with 4.0 potential, not 4.0 GPA’s. The question becomes, what can we do to move potential to reality?! What are the supports we’re putting in place for the brothers who beat the odds and make it to the House? I am honestly not sure if you are ignorant or simply ignoring, but either way, we’ve got to do better. I seriously think that if you start to deal with these five facts, you can move from being Dear Old Morehouse to a Dear New Morehouse.

Oh I can hear you now, “Brother, we are getting ‘new’!” Unfortunately your “new” is old. With each passing year, I swear you move a step backwards towards your former self… or at least an image that you believed yourself to be. From interviews to dress codes, you’re trying to create a brand of respectable middle class black males that went out with the last sputters of the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, alumni get excited when they hear, “we will no longer tolerate…” because we all have a narrative about how Morehouse was and how it has changed. Don’t be surprised if people co-sign on your reversal of the clock without seeing the bigger picture. They’ll support more assemblies, more Crown Forums, more rules, less braids, less sagging, less gays… oops, just kidding on the last one. I know that subject is touchy in our community. Have you forgotten, it was not what was outside that made the Morehouse Man it was what was inside? The most valuable lessons are those learned collectively through struggle, failure and success.  Not from imposition, dress codes, or dress policies. College is one of the few times that Black men may be able to explore fuller and truer selves and your hallowed halls are the ideal place to do so. Instead, you threaten to lock down and narrow those very halls. I want to hear that you’re developing new models of manhood, ones that are not patriarchal, ones that deal with the needs of Black men and boys who need healing, ones that let boys become the Men of their choosing and of their community’s wanting. Few of the rules that you are implementing are creating a healthier pathway for Black men, they’re simply polishing the same “broken” brothas and yet you wonder why it is not working.

Quite regularly now, I receive emails asking “What is Morehouse doing?” Some come in agreement, some come in disagreement, but the ones I value most are the those that come from a place of love for the development of all Black men. The individual policies that you have drawn up are just echoes of the world that Black males now create and inhabit. If Dear Old Morehouse is truly interested in living up to its missions and declarations, the ones that got me to attend, the ones that got me to link up and sing, the ones that got me to love my institution enough to critique its actions, then we’ve got to begin from a point of understanding and expansion, not from a point of rigidity and constriction. Unless we acknowledge that Dear Old Morehouse must become Dear New Morehouse to serve the whole of our community, we’ll be doing this sad dance every 8 months. I look forward to your response and hope WE can grow to meet that crown of which Howard Thurman so eloquently made us aware.

In humility and community,

Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis

Ndugu Dumi Eyi di yiye

Class of 2000

(Image via  nyleharris flckr stream)