By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Churches and citizens raised more than $14,000 at Second Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk on November 18 during a “Save NSU” rally called by the Norfolk Pastors’ Coalition, (NPC). The following day, organizers of the rally delivered the funds to the Norfolk State University Foundation Office to be used for scholarship aid to NSU students.
The Norfolk Pastors’ Coalition (NPC), Norfolk NAACP and other concerned Black leaders hosted the “Save the NSU” forum and rally to show support for the HBCU and help define a path toward resolving the enrollment and fiscal issues it is facing.
Several hundred people attended the event where Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Guns, the Senior Pastor of Second Calvary, said the rally’s purpose was to “galvanize the community of Hampton Roads to increase the level of support for Norfolk State University.”
“The Pastors who form the Norfolk Pastors’ Coalition are motivated to do all that we can to make sure that Norfolk State University remains a viable part of our community,” he said.
The NPC was formed two years ago, according to Guns, who is the group’s chair.
He said NPC was “formed to address issues that are specific to the African-American community in Norfolk and allow Black pastors to speak out on those issues.”
The NPC has about 26 members, who are mostly senior pastors of Norfolk’s Baptist Church community. He said that in the coming months, the group hopes to include pastors from other denominations.
He said the NPC has sponsored a job fair which was attended by over 500 people.
Guns sat on a panel of four that included Peter Blake, the Executive Director of the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV); Norfolk NAACP President Joe Dillard; and Norfolk Businessman and NSU Alumnus Ulysses Turner.
Blake presented data during a PowerPoint show that addressed challenges facing NSU in funding, enrollment and increasing costs incurred by students in securing a college education.
He noted that reductions in state funding for colleges has directly affected student enrollment at NSU and other colleges, as the cost of education has been shifting more heavily toward parents and their children seeking an education. Lowered student enrollment is one of the prime challenges facing NSU.
Blake said that the percentage of students who graduate from NSU is less than other state-supported schools such as Virginia Tech or William and Mary, but he added the percentage born by NSU is in a positive direction. “The school is moving in the right direction on that front,” he said.
Businessman Ulysses Turner pointed out that the school enrolled less than 500 freshman for the fall 2015 session.
He said he recalls when NSU would enroll up to 2000 freshman and he attributed this current problem to “a leadership problem…which has failed the stakeholders.”
Turner pointed out that many of the classrooms at NSU were being underutilized due in part to reduction of student enrollment at the school.
“We need new leadership,” said Turner,” and we need a presidential search now.”
Turner said there is “a lack of communication and interaction with the community with NSU’s current interim President Eddie N. Moore Jr., faculty, staff and leaders” of his Alma Mater.
“We do not want to denigrate the leadership or the staff because you are doing your best,” said Turner. “We want to be your partners. But there is a huge lack of information to the stakeholders of the school.”
State lawmakers Senator Kenneth Alexander and Delegates Joseph Lindsay of Norfolk and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake attended the event to show their support for NSU.
There was a period when Rev. Anthony Paige, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church Lambert’s Point, read questions to panelists from note cards given to individuals sitting in the audience. These cards also were to be delivered by the Coalition to the NSU leadership for their consideration.
Paige pointedly mentioned a long standing fear in the Back community that the continued weakening of the status of NSU would cause state officials to merge the school with TCC or ODU and destroy its historic legacy as an HBCU.
In his closing remarks, Guns, who served in the past as a member of the NSU Board of Visitors, said he hoped that messages from the event did not inspire anyone present to leave with any “negative views about its intent.”
He expressed hope that support for NSU would be an inspiration for congregations of area churches to include money in their budgets for annual contributions to NSU.
He also encouraged area churches to establish fully funded scholarships to be awarded to students who are interested in attending NSU.
Also, he encouraged pastors to recruit talented students to consider attending NSU in the coming years.
“We want to reach out to local alumni chapters to partner with them regarding how we can become a greater catalyst for support of the mission of the university,”said Guns.
“We will continue our dialogue with SCHEV and the Board of Visitors on ways to promote the mission of the university and how we can lobby for greater support for the university.”
He continued, “And we will work to schedule a parent/student event with the university, made up of members of our congregations who are preparing to attend college.”
Guns urged attendees to post a copy of his remarks on Facebook and other social media outlets to make sure the group’s intended messages are widely disseminated.
“Pray for the university and its leadership,” he urged.
“My wife and I intend to establish the Geoffrey V. and
Rosetta H. Guns Scholarship to assist a student from our congregation who enrolls in Norfolk State University.”
Guns said that NPC members would continue their activities, including scheduling a meeting with NSU Interim President Eddie Moore and SCHEV leadership.