By Walter Fields
When I walked onto the hallowed grounds of Morgan State University as a freshman in the fall of 1977, I did so with an enormous sense of pride and an appreciation of the university’s legacy. My sister was a senior and would graduate later that academic year third in the class of 1978. My aunt, who just recently passed away, was a Morgan alumna from the 1950s, a member of the Morgan Choir and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. In other words, Morgan State was in my bloodline. And I cherished the opportunity as a first-generation college student and the son of two southerners who did not have the chance to pursue a college education.
Morgan State was a different place back then; hardly the sprawling campus students get to enjoy today. The institution had only been classified a university for two years when I arrived and our campus radio station was brand new. The most ‘modern’ buildings on campus were the McKeldin Center and Hill Field House, two structures that were not adequate when first constructed. Our enrollment was small by today’s comparison but the student body was ‘family.’ I relished meeting students from states far from my native New Jersey and gained an appreciation for the different experiences we brought to Morgan. Similarly, meeting the likes of a Dr. Benjamin Quarles, Dr. August Adair, Dr. Clayton Stansbury and Dr. Ruth Brett Quarles and others had a profound influence on my personal development and maturity.
Still, Morgan State was not perfect, as most institutions have shortcomings. As a student government activist I helped lead protests against an administration that had failed miserably in upholding Morgan’s mission. And we held the line against a proposed merger of Morgan State into the University of Maryland system. It was not an easy time for those of us who were student leaders and I suffered academically (and almost became a political casualty) but thankfully the struggle did not affect my future, as it made me stronger and I went on to earn a graduate degree from NYU. Fortunately, new leadership later arrived in the persons of Dr. Earl Richardson and Dr. David Wilson and well, the rest is history. The growing campus students enjoy today is the result of the blood, sweat, tears, struggle and sacrifice of generations of students, administrators and scholars who love ‘Fair Morgan.’ Though perfection is a lofty goal we seek for our Alma Mater, the one quality that has always been a part of the Morgan experience is respect.
The Morgan State I know is represented by my fellow alumni Ron Curry, who I saw when I looked up with tears in my eyes as I walked down my church’s aisle at the conclusion of my mother’s funeral this past September. My Alma Mater is exemplified by the love and compassion shown me by my fellow alumni, friend and former co-worker Bonita Baldwin, who expressed her love for me as I mourned the loss of my mother. Then there is the example of Morgan love in my fellow alumni Eleanor Harley and Louise Thompson-Walker making their way to a church on Martin Luther King Day to hear me speak. These people represent the excellence that I know to be Morgan State University. I also saw Morgan love in the generous spirit of my dear friend Acie Williams who I stayed with during homecoming weekend in 2013, and who passed away just weeks after. The reports of violence on campus we have heard over the last several days are an aberration; painful examples of personal and not institutional failure. The true Morgan spirit is one of love and respect.
My simple message to current Morgan students is this: You have the privilege of attending one of our nation’s foremost centers of higher learning and Black culture, respect it. Your time as a Morgan student is fleeting and will pass before you know it. Your alumni community wants you to succeed and carry the Morgan name proudly throughout your career. Respect each other, appreciate and acknowledge the legacy of this institution when you walk into Holmes Hall and pass the statue of Frederick Douglass or enter Carnegie Hall, a gift from industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Get to know each other and not simply in passing. Many of the people who were enrolled at Morgan when I was a student remain some of my dearest friends. Learn from each other, and support each other’s dreams and aspirations.
Mostly, love Morgan and I can assure you that you will be loved in return.
Walter Fields is executive editor of NorthStar News.