The Digest 50 -- 2012's Most Powerful People, Groups in HBCU Culture

2012 was an extraordinary year of successes and challenges for HBCU culture, and this list, while not comprehensive, gives an inside look at the gains made by historically black colleges, and the people behind them.
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The HBCU Digest is proud to present its second annual Digest 50, a year-ending review of the names and headlines that defined HBCU culture in the previous year.

2012 was an extraordinary year of successes and challenges for HBCU culture, and this list, while not comprehensive, gives an inside look at the gains made by historically black colleges, and the people behind them.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the future of historically black colleges, and their continued value to black communities and the nation. Please enjoy this list, feel free to comment on those who made the list and those who didn't, and share with your circle of HBCU advocates.


Students at Claflin University presented a $100,000 check to president Dr. Henry Tisdale in support of the school's $96 million capital campaign, demonstrating a new philanthropy movement among black college students.

A Morgan State University student activist group became a familiar collection of faces in the fight for equitable resources for Maryland's historically black colleges and universities. The X Assembly gathered students from the state's four HBCUs for rallies in Annapolis and on the last day of testimony in the case in downtown Baltimore. In late fall, the group also led mobilization efforts against two on campus shootings.

Howard University graduate students created a viral campaign to raise awareness about the Trayvon Martin racial profiling murder case. The video was featured on several national news broadcasts and raised black college students to the forefront of a national discussion on race and crime in America.

Students at Alabama State University led a massive campus protest against the dismissal of president Joseph Silver. The protests were organized and carried out in peace, and demonstrated a burgeoning concern from students about board relations, politics and public university management.

Howard's Brittany Stallworth gained national recognition as an environmental advocate after receiving the Brower Youth Award. Her organization, Green is the New Black, organized a day of workshops and service dedicated to environmental justice and awareness on the HU campus.

More than 300 Wilberforce students threatened a massive withdrawal from the university in protest of president Patricia Hardaway. Citing low campus morale, crumbling infrastructure and concerns about leadership, the students earned national attention from the black college community and observers of higher education.

Students at the University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff hosted a series of debates on their campus for candidates in Pine Bluff's city council, treasurer and county judge races. The forums attracted community wide attention, and helped to spur student voter registration.

The Tennessee State University Student Government Association gave $8,000 of their annual budget towards micro-grants for students needing nominal financial help to stay in school.

A group of Fayetteville State University student journalists traveled to Washington D.C. to experience life in the White House Press Corps. The students met with working journalists and communications experts to gain experience about the field and its changing culture for minorities.

Southern University's Dancing Dolls troupe performed with Madonna in the Super Bowl halftime show. Madonna invited the troupe for its first performance in the big game after seeing one of their performances on YouTube.


Alabama A&M University professors Dr. Paul Okweye and Dr. Karnita Golson-Garner discovered contaminants in the Triana, AL. water supply, exceeding federal limits for safe consumption. The discovery created new conversation on environmental equity issues in black communities in Alabama and beyond.

Spelman College Professor Dr. Ayoka Chenzira received a $100,000 grant to develop an Earth conservation video game. Her project will introduce more black women to the field of video game design and development, and marks another shattered glass ceiling in Spelman's great history.

Dr. TinChung Leung of North Carolina Central University and Dr. Shengemin Sang of North Carolina A&T State University found ginger and a compound it contains called Gingerol to be effective in treating anemia in animal tests. Their hope is that the treatments can be developed in humans, and can ease anemia effects in chemotherapy patients.

Jane Davis earned national attention after being arrested during a meeting of the Tennessee State University Faculty Senate. While never charged, she would be regarded as an outspoken critic of TSU Interim President Dr. Portia Holmes Shields' policy decisions, and controversial moves within student affairs.

Hampton University School of Business Dean Sid Credle was a central figure in an online uproar against a ban on locks and cornrows in one of the school's executive training programs. Despite the uproar, the ban is still in effect and Hampton remains a sought-after resource for Fortune 500 companies seeking emerging business talent.

Dr. Adrian Krishnasamy may not be a familiar name to many, but the Bowie State professor made history in 2012 as the first director of the first LGBTQIA resource center established on a historically black college campus. The Center at Bowie State offers programming, information and resources for students, faculty and staff to learn more about LGBT issues and communities.

Delaware State University researchers Alissa Mezzacapa and Dr. Nouradine Melikechi were among a handful of scientists monitoring NASA's latest exploration project on Mars. DSU was charged with analyzing surface materials for data through a special laser designed on the DSU campus.

Faculty at Florida A&M University patented groundbreaking processes for HIV/AIDS treatment. In June, Dr. Seth Ablordeppey patented a drug to ease the side effects and slow the rate of infections from HIV and AIDS treatment. In December, Dr. Kinfe Ken Redda patented a drug that can be used as a more effective therapeutic agent in HIV treatment than some existing drugs.

Hampton University faculty in the HU Schools of Science and Engineering and Technology received a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant to create a nanoscience concentration. The new program will expose undergraduates and faculty to the emerging branch of scientific research.

Fort Valley State University professor Dr. George Mbata presented data from his funded research on protecting peanut crops in the southeast region. His research yielded new insight on the use of safe pesticides that can protect valuable peanut crops from infestation, which can lead to exponential savings for farmers in the region.


Hampton University graduates Kellie Wells and Francena McCorory, and Jackson State's Michael Tinsley medaled in the 2012 London Olympic games. Their victories, bronze in the 100-meter hurdles, gold 400-meter relay and silver in the 400-meter hurdles, respectively, reignited hope in HBCU athletic programs to produce world-class athletes.

Patricia Cage Bibbs won her 500th career game in 2012, the first women's basketball coach to accomplish the feat in black college sports history. Bibbs left North Carolina A&T to return to her alma mater Grambling State as its women's basketball coach, but shows no signs of ending one of the greatest coaching careers in NCAA history.

Kyle O'Quinn had a year to remember in 2012. After leading the Norfolk State Spartans men's basketball team to a MEAC championship, hit the game winner in a first-round upset of Missouri in the NCAA national men's basketball tournament, and was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft.

Jacques Curtis brought a Division II national women's basketball championship to Shaw University, and with it, acclaim from the city of Raleigh, the state of North Carolina, and the entirety of HBCU sports culture. He is the first coach to bring Shaw a national title in any sport.

Connell Maynor coached the Winston-Salem State University Rams to a second-straight undefeated regular season, second-straight CIAA football title, and an appearance in the NCAA Division II national championship game. The Rams came up short, but will likely be a nationally ranked program in 2013 and the favorites to win it all.

Brian Jenkins won his first outright MEAC football title, and earned a new contract extension with Bethune-Cookman University after flirting briefly with Southern University's head coaching vacancy. He has emerged as the coaching face of black college football, with many of the hopes of Division I relevance and competitive balance tied directly to his success.

University of Arkansas -- Pine Bluff head football coach Monte Coleman delivered the Golden Lions their first SWAC football title and the first 10-win season in school history. With the championship and successful season, UAPB added to the SWAC's profile as a competitive mid-major NCAA Division I conference, and has earned Coleman a spot as one of the SWAC's best recruiters and coaching talents.

Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum made sports headlines for two very different reasons in 2012. Her school famously scrapped its intercollegiate sports program to direct the money towards a campus-wide women's wellness program. And during the Summer Olympics in London, Dr. Tatum made headlines as a potential suitor for gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas.

After accepting the award for 2012 HBCU of the Year by the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy in April, Alcorn State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown hired the first white head football coach in the history of the SWAC conference, and reinstated the Soul Bowl a dormant football classic on the Lorman campus between the Alcorn Braves and rival Jackson State University. Outside of sports, he also co-authored two books on the re-envisioning of education for African-American boys and young men, and oversaw new gains in enrollment, research and media exposure for Alcorn.

Willie Slater won his fifth SIAC championship as head coach of Tuskegee University, and defeated Alabama State in the Turkey Day Classic. With the Golden Tigers' continuing dominance of the SIAC, will TU consider a move to Division I? Or will Slater be on the short list for several black colleges seeking to fill coaching positions?


Alabama State University COO John Knight was at the center of a million-dollar sexual harassment lawsuit judgment against the university, and a presidential firing. And at the end of 2012, he remains a divisive, key figure in Alabama State University's leadership culture.

Dr. Dianne Suber oversaw a transition for Saint Augustine's College into Saint Augustine's University, was appointed to the federal academic advisory council on homeland security, and her institution may play a key role in the future of Saint Paul's College in 2013.

Dr. John S. Wilson, former executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, was appointed as president of Morehouse College in 2012. Regarded for his WHI work in developing foreign study and S.T.E.M. focus as HBCU development Dr. Wilson return to his alma mater to face challenges in fundraising, questions about academic rigor, and new discussions about the college's identity.

Former Saint Paul's College President Eddie Moore helped a dying institution raise millions of dollars and national media awareness, and helped the college to appeal and reverse the revocation of its accreditation.

Michael Sorrell announced the establishment of the Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy at Paul Quinn College in 2012, seeking to bring research and professional development to undergraduate curriculum at the school. The first of its kind at a historically black college, the center will bring new professional into the industry of fundraising with an eye towards black college philanthropy.

Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey was selected to lead a revitalization effort for Downtown Hampton. He is charged with assembling leaders in business, the arts, finance and legislature to re-envision the area as a hub of commerce and tourism.

Despite calls from alumni, legislators, students and the community, the Board of Trustees remains in place at South Carolina State University. Facing multi-million dollar deficits, plummeting enrollment and virtually no public confidence, 2013 may be the last year for this board to remain in its current form.

Jackson State University Associate Provost Dr. James Maddirala received the Hind Rattan (Jewel of India) International Award from the Non-Resident Indians (NRI) Welfare Society of India. The award is given annually to 30 Indians living in other countries for their professional achievements and contributions to society.


Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an alumna of Xavier University of Louisiana, started a movement with her "We Are Doc McStuffins" campaign on Facebook. Giving support to the show that depicted an African-American girl with aspiration of becoming a doctor, Dr. Taylor's efforts attracted hundreds female doctors from HBCUs nationwide who support positive images of black women in public health and the medical sciences.

Thanks to a massive awareness campaign launched by the University of the Virgin Islands, alumni of the institution helped boost alumni giving from 13 percent to 42 percent in 2012. It is one of the largest increases among historically black colleges this year, and perhaps in history.

Wardell and Josie Ballantine celebrated 35 years of RV tailgating at Southern University football games in 2012, displaying not only a love and support of their alma mater, but for each other. The Ballantines were the first to gameday tailgate in SU history.

Howard University alumni Omar McGee and Kellie Crawford launched a viral web campaign to raise funds in support of a Los Angeles-based charter school. 'The Thought Campaign' challenges supporters to reconsider the impact of education, and pioneers new considerations on how to encourage minority youth towards academic and entrepreneurial success.

Jackson State University alumnus Cortez Bryant donated $500,000 to the university in 2012 in support of JSU's scholarship fund. Bryant is the manager for hip-hop stars Lil' Wayne and Drake.

Former University of Maryland Eastern Shore students Josh and Matt Shockley launched a superhero comic book series based on the Eastern Shore. The series, which is gain regional and some national attention, is also creating a buzz for their independent company, PLB Comics.

Spelman College alumna Rosalind Brewer was named the president and CEO of the Sam's Club retail chain, becoming the first African-American woman to hold the position. Brewer will oversee a chain of more than 610 stores that grossed more than $49 billion in 2011.

The James and Ruth Smith Trust bequeathed more than $1 million in assets and property to Southern University in 2012, making the largest private donation in Southern history in 2012. James and Ruth, both Southern graduates, died 2008 and 2006, respectively, and were married for 44 years.

Alvin Davis, a Florida A&M University graduate was a candidate for 2012 National Teacher of the Year. His work was profiled on the CBS Evening News in 2012, and created a new perspective on black men as secondary teachers and mentors.

Morehouse College alumnus Imar Hutchins sparked a national debate about HBCU relevance and the continuing legacy of his alma mater with a letter to the College's Board of Trustees in summer 2012. Hutchins asked pointed questions about Morehouse's future and the vision it sought in a new leader, an invited deeper introspection from other alums about their own institutions.

Outside Interests

Dottie Belletto is President of the New Orleans Convention Company, the group charged with managing the Bayou Classic. In 2012, NOCCI reported an increase in attendance at the nation's most famous black college football classic. And with longtime sponsor State Farm scheduled to drop its support of the game in 2013, it will be up to Belletto to again build happy feelings around the Bayou Classic events for corporate support to come to Southern and Grambling.

Christopher Chestnut is the attorney representing the Champion family in its lawsuit against Florida A&M University. As the lead voice in the case, his words have created much of the angst and raw emotions surrounding details of the death, and of FAMU's alleged role in the tragedy.

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