By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
When today’s Norfolk State University (NSU) opened its doors in 1935, the first students and funds to operate came prominently from Grace Episcopal Church and Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk, and in Portsmouth, Ebenezer AME Church, among others.
The fledging school was housed in two cramped rooms at the Hunton YMCA located on Brambleton Avenue in Norfolk and many of the first educators and administrators worked there weekdays and attended churches nearby on Sunday.
Most of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded with the help of churches and other religious institutions in their respective communities, especially in the South.
The connection between NSU and the Hampton Roads’ faith-based community has been sustained as the school has grown in size and importance from its early days into independence.
In 2012, NSU enhanced that long-standing kinship in the form of the NSU Faith Partners Network (FPN). It’s a partnership between NSU and about 150 local religious and faith-based institutions to include Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
The FPN’s goals are to bolster NSU’s enrollment, to raise funds and to promote the spiritual and community awareness of NSU students and staff.
The FPN is also an advisory group for the university’s president and his executive staff.
Come January 20 of 2017, at 6 p.m. in NSU’s Echols Hall Sports Arena, the FPN’s mission will be on public display for the first time with an exhibition basketball game to raise money for the NSU athletic program.
The opposing teams will be composed of area church leaders and members and the coaches will be the legendary James Sweat and Malcolm ‘Zeke’ Avery, two long time NSU supporters.
Comedian Allison Moore will serve as guest emcee. Also, attendees will be entertained by Renaissance Movement Music featuring Nigel “Legin” Anderon, Demetria Stallings, praise dancer Kaylan Bradford and others. Ticket prices are only $10 for adults and $5 for children.
NSU’s Athletic Director Marty Miller said he welcomes such fundraising efforts to help defray the costs of funding NSU’s 15 sports programs.
He said that in 2015, State Delegate Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, sponsored and worked to pass legislation which required state-supported colleges and universities to reduce the level of funding of their sports programs using student fees.
Right now, that stands at 70 percent for NSU.
In 2014, NSU had an athletic budget of $14 million. Now it is down to $11 million, due to the legislation. Some larger schools have three and four times that amount.
To bridge the gap, Miller said NSU has devised ways to generate additional revenue, which were met with derision initially from some NSU sports fans.
Last year NSU started charging tailgaters to fire up the grill before football games. It is also charging for parking and has begun serving beer and wine at the concessions stands.
Each year, Miller said NSU and other small Division I sports programs, which are strapped for cash, schedule “Guarantee Games” with larger and wealthier schools as the visiting team.
There is one such game for football and four for basketball contests.
The smaller school usually comes out on the losing end of the field.
But they are “guaranteed” a share of the proceeds from the ticket sales and concessions. This aids the smaller school’s sports operating budget for the football and basketball teams which pay the bills for the other sports programs.
Many Division I schools go in the red each year seeking to fund sports which are used to expose the school’s name and recruit students.
“Division I sports is very expensive,” said Miller. “You have to find ways to pay the bills and survive. The biggest challenge is fundraising for small schools like NSU. There are many schools with three and four times the budget we have. I hope people will understand why we are charging for parking and tailgating.
“We are hoping that our alumni, fans and other supporters will support us by giving back to help us out,” said Miller, who has been Athletic Director since 2004. “This is why we are asking Spartan fans to donate $1,000 or more to help out their school and the kids who are using their talents to compete in sports for the school.”
Phillip Sherrill is the Vice President of Advancement for NSU, and his job is helping to coordinate, identify and access private and corporate monetary and other forms of support for NSU.
The Faith Partners Network is a group of faith leaders who have affinity and connection with NSU in some way,” said Sherrill. “They are either alumni, or have a sibling or offspring who has attended the school.
“The partnership not only helps to provide funding for the school, but our students, while attending their churches, are introduced to the community and various activities.
“NSU has a tradition of inviting the church leaders to our campus for various programs and to share their expertise,” said Sherrill.
“During our Founders Day programs, we will highlight our relationship with the faith community. Many church leaders are so busy trying to keep their operations going. But they know the importance of higher education and want to leave as part of their legacy an example of how they support an HBCU like NSU.”
Rev. Keith Jones is a member of the FPN Executive Steering Committee. He is the Senior Pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church, which sits across the street from the NSU campus on Park Avenue in the Brambleton Section of Norfolk.
Jones said Shiloh Baptist helped sustain NSU during its depression-era infancy with funding and students.
“This partnership is an opportunity for the pastors and other faith leaders to maintain some type of connection with NSU to bless the campus,” said Jones. “It is also a chance for the NSU to bless the faith community to forge a link for a better Hampton Roads.”
NSU is within walking distance of Shiloh, Second Calvary, Gethsemane Community Fellowship, Grace Episcopal and Covenant Presbyterian. Each has leaders in the network.
Jones, who also sits on the NSU Foundation Board, said that many NSU students not only attend services at Shiloh, but volunteer to serve in some capacity at the church.
On the second Sunday in February, Jones said his church organizes University Day where students from NSU and other colleges are invited to attend services.
“We benefit from the students’ presence in our pews and their talents” said Rev. Jones, an NSU product, who has a degree in Political Science. “At the same time we help them with their growth spiritually and intellectually. For some, Shiloh, as in the case of other churches, has become their church home after they graduate. Or if they leave the area they donate to the church to help give back.
“This is a very important connection for them and the churches.
Vernon Fareed is also a member of the Faith Partners Network Executive Steering Committee which is working to organize the upcoming charity basketball game and other fundraising efforts. He is the Imam of the Masjid William Salaam Mosque in the Park Place Section of Norfolk.
His wife acquired a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from NSU and several members of his Mosque have studied at the HBCU.
He said each year members of his Mosque go to the NSU campus and interact with the students “who are Muslim, Christian and other religions to answer questions about Islam, as a part of our outreach to the school.”
“Obviously Muslims are a minority in Hampton Roads,” said Fareed. “And the NSU staff wanted to be inclusive in its effort to raise money for its programs and to expose its students to the community and the various religions which exist beyond the campus.”
Robin Mancoll is the Director of Community Relations for the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. The agency networks with synagogues locally and beyond, to raise and allocate resources to assist Jewish agencies that provide healthcare, social services and education, and aid organizations that improve human relations and provide Jewish cultural programs.
Mancoll said that about 65 percent of the agencies the federation assists are non-Jewish.
“There is a misconception that we only serve the Jewish community,” said Mancoll. “There is also a misconception that you have to be Black to attend Norfolk State. When you go on that campus you see a diversity of races, cultures and religions.”
“When I first walked onto the campus, I was welcomed there, just as I am at ODU or TCC,” said Mancoll. “NSU, like the other schools, belongs to the community because we see the school’s openness to engaging the different faiths and cultures.”
Tickets for the fundraiser are only $10 for adults, $5 for children, and may be purchased at the NSU Ticket office and online at nsuspartanstickets.com.