The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest and Philadelphia’s largest newspaper serving the African-American community, honored 10 people who have been named Philadelphia’s “Most Influential” African Americans, at a private reception for 400 guests on Thursday evening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The guest list included elected officials, education leaders, businesspersons, community activists and labor leaders.
“It is a significant opportunity for us, because we are the only people in this town to recognize men and women who make the contributions to this city, and frequently this nation, who go unrecognized,” said Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle.
“And so we made a commitment to make sure we are included - all those who are entitled to equal access and opportunity, and those who make an impression and influence the decisions that make us a better community.”
In addition, Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, and Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, received special recognition for their impact on the community at large. The Philadelphia Tribune also commemorated Cheyney University for its 175th anniversary.
“We have been doing this for more than 10 years,” said Tribune Magazine Editor Shonda McClain. “This is a great event for us to honor our own, and to celebrate their accomplishments. These are the people that people don’t always know about - the people in the trenches – that are doing the hard work everyday, and this our way of saying, thank you, and honoring those people for the work that they do and the contributions that they make to our community.”
On Sunday Sept. 16, the Tribune will publish a special edition of Tribune Magazine, featuring its annual list of 10 People Under 40 to Watch, African-American Leaders, and Movers & Shakers of the Delaware Valley, who demonstrate leadership beyond their positions.
Dominique Curry grew watching the Philadelphia Eagles play on Sunday afternoons. Now, Curry, former George Washington High, Cheyney University and California University (PA) standout, will be playing against his hometown team on Sunday when the St. Louis Rams host the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. (Fox Channel 29).
“It’s a blessing to be able to make the team for my second year let alone play my hometown team,” said Curry, a wide receiver and special teams player. “I think half the people back home want to see me play on TV, but they haven’t since we’re in the Midwest. But now I know a lot of people in Philly are going to be watching now.”
Curry, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, is a terrific athlete. He played football, basketball and track and field at George Washington. The former Public League star played in the Sonny Hill League.
He had a great college career. He finished his career at California University in 2009. He played his first three seasons at Cheyney University. He snared 134 receptions for 2,202 yards and 14 touchdowns while earning All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference honors. Curry also played basketball for Cheyney, where he tallied 1,079 career points and snatched 606 career rebounds.
Curry hails from a sports family. His dad, Dominique Stephens played basketball with Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Doug Overton at Dobbins. He was on the Mustangs’ 1985 Public League championship team. Stephens played his college basketball for North Carolina Central where he helped the Eagles win the 1989 NCAA Division II national championship.
Curry’s aunt is Marilyn Stephens, who starred at Simon Gratz and played for Temple where she scored 2,194 points and grabbed 1,519 rebounds. The Owls retired her jersey, which now hangs at the Liacouras Center. They’re both head basketball coaches at Cheyney University. Dominique is the head men’s basketball coach while Marilyn is the head women’s basketball coach. They’re two of Curry’s biggest fans.
“They’re very excited for me,” Curry said. “I talked to my dad the other day. It’s really a blessing. That’s what they tell me. Now, it’s time to go to work.”
Curry has landed a spot with the Rams as an undrafted free agent. This is his second year in the NFL. During training camp, he fractured his hand and had surgery. He had a cast on his hand for a few weeks, but is now playing with his hand heavily wrapped. Nevertheless, he’s looking forward to helping St. Louis get to the next level. The Rams just missed the playoffs last year.
“We don’t want to settle for being one game away from the playoffs,” he said. “We want to make playoffs. I want to do as much as I can to help the team win.”
Curry participated in the “Legends of the Pub Camp” last summer during the NFL lockout. The camp was held at Marcus Foster Stadium, 18th and Hunting Park Avenue, for many kids throughout the city.
“It was great for the community,” Curry said. “I’m from that neighborhood. It was something really positive for the kids and the community. We had a lot of guys there like Jameel McClain (Baltimore Ravens, George Washington High). I talked to Jameel from time to time. I spoke to him and he wished me good luck this year. We actually play against each other this year. I know a lot of people in Philly will want to see that game, too.”
Baltimore will battle St. Louis on Sept. 25, but the Eagles and the Rams will be center stage today.
“I encourage you to think of me as a teacher,” implored Maya Angelou. “The truth is I am a teacher who can write.”
Angelou is much more than a teacher and a writer. The illustrious educator, poet, novelist, actress, historian, film producer and human rights activist spent an evening addressing a few hundred students, faculty and guests at Cheyney University’s Marian Anderson Music Center on Thursday.
“Each one of us is a rainbow in the clouds,” she stated shortly after the curtain opened and she was welcomed by warm, thunderous applause. “We have the possibility to be someone’s rainbow in the clouds.”
Humble and modest beyond measure, Angelou, 83, went against her physician’s orders, traveling from her Winston-Salem, N.C., home to spend an evening speaking in Delaware County. “Retired means expired. I keep on going as long as I continue to be wanted,” she said before visiting the campus.
In her distinct, deliberate speaking style, Angelou said she is “impressed with Cheyney University and the students of the Keystone Honors Academy. “This is the right place for them to come.”
In addition to hosting nationally and internationally renowned scholars and speakers, the Keystone Honors Academy has one of the highest graduation rates of African-American college students in the country.
Prior to Angelou’s gracing the stage, alumni of the Academy shared their testimonies on what the program has meant to their lives.
Alumnus Christopher Carter, a 2011 graduate currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “I admire Dr. Angelou’s ability to express herself, open everyone’s hearts and find ways to touch them.” The Pittsburgh native is also the vice president of the University of Pittsburgh’s Black Law Student Association.
As Angelou recited Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, self proclaimed “nontraditional” Keystone Honors Academy student Rashid Salahud-Din found himself reciting along with her. “I learned the sonnet preparing for a play here at Cheyney. It was a memory exercise,” said the 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, father of 11 and grandfather of 29. “She was amazing. Eloquent, sophisticated and real.” The 1966 Overbrook High School graduate is studying psychology and acts as a dormitory resident adviser.
“I have a tattoo of ‘Still I Rise,’ said first-year Academy student Sierra-Katherine Brooks of Carlisle. “I’m really excited to see her.” The track and field student-athlete has a full scholarship and acts as a student ambassador for prospective Cheyney students. “Whenever I go through a rough time, I am inspired by her (Angelou) to keep going.”
Cheyney University President Michelle Howard-Vital said she was delighted to host such an “icon” and “have Dr. Angelou share her thoughts in a venue like this. Our students and the Keystone Honors Academy are fortunate to share this experience with people that have come from many areas throughout our region.”
John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, echoed the sentiments of President Howard-Vital: “This is a fantastic opportunity for not only Cheyney University, but for the state of Pennsylvania. The Keystone Honors Academy program is one of the state’s jewels.”
“It is very important for a young Black person to go for their first college degree at an HBCU — Historically Black Colleges and Universities — so that she or he can be introduced to great ideas of people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and 18th-century writers of African descent,” Angelou said in an interview before her appearance.
Throughout her life Angelou has lived by and utilized the words she shares with audiences around the world. “Language can be beautiful, and used as a device like clothes are used to keep us warm. Read aloud to hear the language — to hear it in your own words.”
Angelou has gained global respect and admiration, often being referred to as a powerful voice for the masses for her accomplishments. “I know that I am thought of highly, and for that, I am grateful. I have an attitude of gratitude,” she said. “All great achievements require time.”
In her signature, deeply raw yet rich and compassionate oration, Angelou reiterated her message before leaving the stage: “I am a man. I consider nothing that is human alien to me,” reciting Terence, an African playwright of the Roman Republic. “Develop the courage to be a human being,” she encouraged, and urged the audience. “Be that rainbow in someone else’s clouds.”
“She left blessings with each of us,” said Keystone Honors Academy Dean Tara Kent,
Founded as the African Institute in 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America.
Behind the dollars slashed in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget are the people — Malik Williams, a freshman at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, is one — along with thousands of other Pennsylvania college students whose lives would be affected by the governor’s proposal to cut funds to state colleges and universities by 25 percent.
“If tuition goes up, I would most likely be forced to leave and pursue other venues to further my education,” said Williams, 19. “It wouldn’t be feasible to stay here.”
He might leave the state in search of less expensive schools, or try community college.
It’s a reality that officials at Cheyney acknowledge, and are trying to change.
“It’s premature to talk about tuition,” said Eric Almonte, executive associate to the president at Cheyney, noting that neither the school’s trustees nor the state board of governors has yet mentioned tuition increases. University officials are studying all options, he said, including the possibility of hosting summer sports camps and charging for them, online classes to raise extra revenue, renting dorm rooms to campus visitors and improving overall efficiency of operations.
Most families that send students to Cheyney are not flush with cash. Any increase in cost has an immediate impact.
“Our average family income is under $40,000, and when you take that into consideration with what happened last year with the 18 percent cut, that translated to a $750 increase, it just puts the families in a real precarious situation,” Almonte said. “The last thing we want to do is negatively impact people’s lives. But, at some point it’s tough.”
Williams, who hails from Pittsburgh, has a 3.75 grade point average, and attends Cheyney through a combination of state and federal aid and a package of eight scholarships. He must maintain a 3.0 to keep his funding.
“I work so hard to get these scholarships and to keep my GPA up — and by raising tuition it would make it that much harder for me to be able to take care of expenses,” he said. “I don’t believe I would be able to do it.”
It took a lot of work just get into college. Williams estimated that he applied for 150 scholarships to receive the eight he now has.
“We spent two summers on that,” he said. “The time and work it takes to get these scholarships — it’s draining and with this happening, it’s going to take more. The pot is getting smaller — there’s going to be more people clawing.”
His parents are simply unable to pay.
“My mother? Maybe she could tackle the burden of books but tuition, that’s too much,” said Williams. “My father, definitely not.”
More students are having problems paying for college.
A report released this week by the Federal Reserve found that 27 percent of students who owe on student loans are at least 30 days late.
Tuition and other college costs have gone nowhere but up.
This is the second year in a row that Corbett has slashed spending for higher education and, if enacted as proposed, would represent a 50 percent cut over 18 months in state funding to state-operated schools like Cheyney.
Last year, after some negotiating with the legislature, funding was cut 19 percent. This year Corbett has proposed a 25 percent reduction.
“The proposed budget represents the latest in a cascade of reductions to the state system in the past 18 months,” said John C. Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in a statement. “ If this proposal stands, we will have lost more than $170 million in state and federal education and general funding, compounded by a 50 percent reduction in our capital allocation and the loss of … funding dedicated to deferred maintenance.”
That pits the physical priorities of any university against its intellectual priorities.
“These reductions now mean that we must increasingly decide whether to renovate and maintain our existing physical plant, or provide students the courses and programs they require to graduate,” said Cavanaugh.
The cost of attending Cheyney had already been rising.
For 2011–2012, tuition was $4,202, but total cost of attending was more than four times that number at $17,464.
That was up from a total of $16,204 in 2010–2011 and $15,398 in 2009–2010.
After last year’s increase, enrollment declined after rising 3, 6, and 9 percent for the previous three years.
“We were definitely trending in the right direction,” Almonte said. “The last year we lost a significant number of students. It was a variety of factors.”
Every time costs rise, students like Williams have to work harder to keep up.
“It’s raising the bar, so I have to go out and get into other things. I have to put in more work, and give up more time just so I can take care of my deficit and my finances,” he said. “I have this debt monkey on my back that I have to continuously worry about.”
Without college, Williams would likely be in the military.
“If it weren’t for the scholarships, I’d be in Iraq,” he said. “I’d rather hold a pencil than a gun.”
Williams knows from experience the importance of a college education.
His mother graduated from Penn State. His father was in jail for most of Williams’ childhood, and when he was released, his parents experienced marital difficulties that forced Williams from his childhood home and school in Pittsburgh to a series of five high schools during his junior and senior years.
“Our family went through things,” said Williams. “My father, he took us on a long ride.
Williams spent much of his junior year at Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Md., a school he described as a “house of bones.”
“It changed my outlook on a lot of things. I saw the struggles of kids,” he said. “I felt that I was being told to climb a ladder of success, but the ladder only came to my knees. Because I wasn’t in the most credible schools, I wasn’t going to get my chance.”
But he changed schools, persevered, and eventually decided to attend Cheyney.
Many of his African-American peers followed other paths.
“Some are incarcerated. Some are in the military. The majority didn’t believe they could make it,” he said. “Which is a lie.”
Williams wanted to go to a historically Black college because he thought it would give him an advantage.
“I feel like they could prepare me for being an effective African American in today’s society, and focus on grooming me more than other schools might as someone who is at the head of an organization,” he said. “They know where to push me, the gaps that I can fit in. They can groom me to be a better individual.”
Initially, Williams planned on getting a degree in hotel management, but college has expanded his ambitions and he’s taking more of an interest in foreign affairs.
“I’m starting to look into political science a lot more than I have in the past,” he said. “The more questions I’m asking, the less I’m satisfied with the world I’m living in.”
One thing is certain, armed with a degree Williams hopes to make life better for himself.
“I’m never going to be homeless again. I’m never going to be hungry again. I’m never going to have the lights cut out. I’m never going to have the water cut off. I’m never going to have the heat cut off in the winter time,” he said. “I’ve got to study.”
Almonte said education should be a top priority for state officials — particularly for students like Williams.
“Right now education is a civil rights issue,” he said. “We demonstrate what our values are with the resources we put toward education.”
They got up early, boarded buses and headed to the historic Mount Moriah Cemetery to give the grounds a facelift.
“I'm glad that we ended up with Mt. Moriah, it was such a history lesson,” said the Rev. Elisha Morris, Cheyney’s internship coordinator.
Mount Moriah Cemetery is the final resting place for former mayors of Philadelphia, civil war soldiers, and other notable historic figures. It relies heavily on volunteers.
Cheyney students contributed to the cemetery’s restoration and maintenance efforts by removing shrubs, mowing the grass, raking leaves, picking up trash and beautifying the grounds.
Morris organized the day of service for the Cheyney students, wholeheartedly believing the activity helped to indoctrinate a message of making a contribution.
The day of service also served as an ice-breaker activity for incoming freshman, creating new relationships and inspiring teamwork.
“Community service is a big part of education,” Morris said. “You can’t plan to make a lot of money when you get out of school and not be concerned about the people who couldn’t afford to go to college. You need to be an inspiration to others just like the people who came before you and paved the way for you.”
For the past two years Morris has passionately embraced his role within the University College. In addition to coordinating internships, he assists first and second year students with transitioning into college life.
With the support of his boss, Robin Williams, Morris sought out to “remind the kids that they are privileged to be in college.”
He contacted an associate, Todd Bernstein, founder and director of the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service/MLK365. Bernstein directed him to Paulette Rhone, board president of the Friends for Mount Moriah Cemetery.
Rhone and Anthony Selletti, vice president of the Friends for Mount Moriah Cemetery, were among those that hosted the student group.
“He is extremely knowledgeable of the civil war era and Philadelphia’s involvement,” Morris said. “I issue a challenge to every youth group to get involved. This (Mount Moriah Cemetery) is historical, it’s in our community. Go out there for four hours and try to make a difference. It's just good to get your hands dirty doing something every now and again.”
His students have expressed interest in returning to Mount Moriah according to Morris.
“My kids want to do it,” he said. “They want to go back and that has inspired me.”
Another group of Cheyney freshmen spent their day of service at Coatesville’s Community, Youth and Women’s Alliance (CYWA).
The organization provides temporary shelter to homeless women and their children.
“It gives hope that we’re not forgotten,” said CYWA’s special projects director Roger Wayne.
Rising to the surface in a silvery, wriggling mass, 2,000 tilapia seemed to bring the water to a boil as they fought over the pellets spread on the water by Heidi Wood-Tucker, a fisheries biologist at the Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Moments before the dark green water was disturbed only by the gurgling of filters and the tanks, topped by a lawn of basil sprouts, seemed empty. But, the thousands of fish swimming just below the bubbles of the filter were very much alive, providing life to the basil plants above — all part of a natural cycle tweaked by man and called aquaponics, which is at the center of a growing science program at Cheyney.
Cheyney has the largest aquaponics program in the state, one lauded for its benefit to African-American students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“We can really inspire the next generation to go into the sciences,” Wood-Tucker said. “We have a huge need for students in STEM. Everybody is talking about from the President down. And, we at Cheyney are addressing that need.”
Using aquaponics, Cheyney and a private company called Herban Farms, is harvesting 6,000 basil plants a week, all of which are wrapped and sold to area supermarkets, adding a business component to the science program.
Ultimately, Steven Hughes, a biology professor and director of the Aquaculture and Research and Education Center at Cheyney, hopes to draw more students into the business side of the basil growing operation too.
“We would like to see in the long run more involvement,” he said.
It’s the multi-faceted nature of the program that makes it so important.
Even the part that is purely scientific requires thinking across a range of disciplines.
“Aquaculture is a broad based integrated science that brings in a lot of different concepts and rolls them all into a very practical application,” said Hughes.
Since 2004, about 50 students have studied as part of the program that is now being offered as a major.
School officials hope the program can continue to expand but growth is difficult as colleges and universities increasingly compete for funding and students.
Cheyney’s program operates on a budget of about $200,000 a year. Officials hope to find more funding — perhaps through the upcoming farm bill — and expand the program.
“It’s difficult for our science program to compete with the Drexels and the U. Penns because they have all the bells and whistles,” Wood-Tucker said.
The science behind the program is simple but impressive.
The tilapia provide the nutrients needed to grow the basil, which floats on the surface of the tanks in trays that allow its roots to absorb the water. The concentration of nutrients and the growing conditions in the 11,000 square-foot greenhouse allow harvests every 40 days. It would take about a year and two acres to grow a similar number of plants.
“We’re really increasing production,” Hughes said. “It’s a more intensive culture, the concentration of nutrients and better conditions day in and day out. We’re growing stuff in a month it would take you two and half months to grow out in the yard.”
According to Wood-Tucker, the program generates enthusiasm among younger people too. Students from local middle schools and high schools visit Cheyney for tours of the aquaponics facilities, which also include an attempt to grow freshwater mussels on a commercial scale and another project that uses saltwater shrimp in a process similar to one used with the tilapia.
“You really are using all the dynamics of biology,” explained Wood-Tucker. “There are a lot of different nuances that we have know — we have to know water quality, what the system is doing, how much water is flowing through the system. — it really takes agriculture to the next level.”
As important as the science and business knowledge imparted by the program are, the program provides other benefits too.
Many of Cheyney’s students, drawn primarily from the city, have little idea where their food actually comes from. Experiencing the cycle of nature gives students first-hand knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry.
“This is critical to re-establishing that man/nature connection,” Hughes said.
It’s also a link to a traditional role played by many Black farmers and watermen.
“We have a history of doing things with this, but very few people realize it,” he said, pointing to Black oyster farmers in Delaware and Maryland and catfish farmers in the South. “This is another opportunity for people to work and to excel.”
The same link exists with farming, he adding, noting that while Cheyney is growing only basil, a number of other plants — most herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, kale, peppers — could be grown using the same process and the cycle also increases fish production opening up enormous possibilities for the concept.
“This is science that feeds people. I’m really looking forward to point in time when we can increase diversity in this field. This is not an area where you have a lot of African Americans,” Hughes said. “This impacts African-American food supplies just as much as it does majority food supplies.”
There’s always change at the end of the school year at Cheyney University.
Most students prepare for next semester’s course load, while graduates move on to greater pursuits.
A new show brings viewers into the lives of college students. From move-in day, to long lines for academic counseling — the show is a trip down memory lane for anyone who has ever visited a college campus.
“We’re Just Talking” is an online show based on the reality of many 18- to 25-year-old African Americans who are college students and/or recent graduates.
The show is loosely based on what creator Cedric Perry, a 2008 graduate of Cheyney, experienced as an undergraduate student.
“‘WJT’ is based on about 80 percent of things I experienced as a student,” he said.
The show humorously focuses on many aspects of life at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
Topics on the show include: relationships, student government, the senior epiphany and the “post college struggle.”
The latter topic is described as the period following college when graduates begin to look for their dream job in their major and soon realize it may not exist.
Graduates also must make the decision to keep chasing their dream with little money or work in a different field so they can make enough money to repay student loans.
During his senior year, Perry had what many called the “senior epiphany,” that moment close to graduation when a student has invested years in their major and finally realizes the major they chose isn’t what they want to do with their life.
Perry, who has a degree in business administration decided he wanted to have a career in television.
Perry originally began following his dream through “PICK 6,” a Web talk show he launched after graduation. However, with a decline in Black sitcoms, Perry wanted to do something to bring Black sitcoms back to television.
As a student, he and a few friends had an idea for a show, but they were too busy to invest time in it. Finally, three years after graduation, Perry revisited the idea and created “We’re Just Talking.”
The name of the show comes from a common term used by many young people to describe their current relationship status.
“We’re just talking is what a lot of young people say when they aren’t serious about someone,” Perry said. “It’s a way of not committing to a serious relationship.”
But, the name of the show has a deeper meaning.
Perry wants African Americans to challenge issues in the Black community and inspire people to do more than talk. His show sends a message of setting goals and accomplishing dreams.
The show follows the lives of several students. Topping the line-up is the hilarious Andre Hawkins played by Stefan Matthews, who is in constant pursuit of his love interest Melyssa King. Hawkins always feels like he’s getting closer to King when she says it’s not serious.
King is older than the other freshmen because she decided to take a two-year break from school instead of going straight to college. She made a lot of mistakes in life, including focusing too much on boys and not enough on school — but she is learning to make better decisions as she gets older.
Courtney Nicole Dean, who plays King, says everyone should be able to relate to her character and learn from King’s mistakes.
“I want people to understand that there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes,” she said. “Everyone makes them. You just have to acknowledge your mistakes and move on.”
“WJT” is filmed on the campuses of Cheyney and West Chester University using HD cameras. It’s edited using Cyberlink Power Director. Each show has a complete script and uses very few adlibs.
“One thing that’s unique about the show is it’s written using a full, 22-minute sitcom format which is different than regular Web shows which average six minutes,” Perry said.
Now, Perry is pitching the show to major networks in hopes of getting the show televised. The cast is spreading word about the show through various events such as open mic nights, which Kyle Morris, who plays Derek Holmes, frequents.
Episodes of “We’re Just Talking” can be seen on YouTube.
Looking back isn’t always easy.
Motivated by the memory of her mother, Miss Cheyney University Skakeemah Simmons has made education her top priority.
According to Simmons, she was always an honor roll student, but after the death of her mother, there was a push to succeed further in college.
Her mother, Terry Hilliard, was in the second tower during the Sept. 11th attacks.
As a sixth-grade student at her school in Jersey City, Simmons had a clear view of the buildings falling from her classroom window.
Hilliard survived the attacks and arrived home later that night, but she later died from MRSA, which was caused by inhaling toxic chemicals while trying to escape.
Simmons remembers the day her mother died, just three weeks after she began college and she honors her mother by continuing to do well and move forward.
“I’m glad it happened,” she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t value education as much. I have to graduate because this is what she wanted.”
As Miss Cheyney, Simmons strived to enforce the values of the university and make sure fellow students are aware of the importance of being a proud Cheyney student. Throughout her reign she used her “Together We Make a Difference” campaign to encourage students.
Dexter Stucke, a friend of Simmons and graduate of Lincoln University admires the way Simmons has represented not only Cheyney but all Black colleges.
“I think many HBCU’s over the past few years have been looked at as unnecessary due to Blacks being accepted into primary white institutions,” he said. “I’m always inspired by the droves of Black leaders who attend HBCUs because they show me that in a world full of inequalities there are still endless possibilities for growth.”
According to Simmons, Cheyney is a land of opportunity where young scholars receive everything they need to become successful in their endeavors.
“I feel like I have everything I need for life after college,” she said. “Cheyney has prepared me for the future.”
She wants students to use their time at Cheyney to take ownership of their futures by using the resources available to them, including internship assistance and other various programs aimed at preparing students for their careers.
In an environment where individuality is sometimes lost, Simmons stays true to herself by maintaining her personality and morals.
“I won Miss Cheyney because of who I am, not who I should be,” she said. “I bring my personality to the crown. People say I shouldn’t ‘act like that’ or ‘do that,’ but that’s just who I am.”
This school year, Simmons had a full itinerary — including being a student mentor, working as an intern for the Wendy Williams Show in New York and being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
She credits time management and dedication to her title for her success.
“I made a promise to the university, grades come first,” she said.
In a region that offers a plethora of options for those pursuing a higher education, Cheyney University has distinguished itself as a national leading institution. Graduating undergraduate students at twice the national average for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the university's Keystone Honors Academy is a hidden treasure here in Delaware County.
Designed to cultivate academically enriching experiences for the Cheyney University community through a multifaceted approach, the Keystone Honors Academy has been inspiring students to realize their academic potential since its inception in the 1980s.
Dr. Tara Kent, Dean of the academy, explained that the program seeks to “become a fully established honors college” and “publish findings related to minority student retention and success so that the model may be emulated on other (college) campuses.”
Dr. Maya Angelou, will appear on Cheyney University’s campus in support of the Keystone Honors Academy on March 22. She will be the featured guest during a VIP reception and lecture which is open to the general public.
A recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees and numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Angelou’s appearance is being partially funded by Philadelphia headquartered AmeriHealth Mercy and a Pennsylvania Department of Education Higher Education Assistance Grant.
According to a January report by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, nearly half of the HBCUs surveyed graduated African-American students at a rate of 32 percent.
Collaborations with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and West Chester University have aided the Keystone Honors Academy with retaining students and surpassing the national graduation average among its students that enroll.
“The honors programs at West Chester University and Cheyney University collaborate regularly. West Chester students benefit from exposure to the HBCU experience and the cultural programming available on our campus, and our students benefit from the many academic resources available at West Chester. A group of Cheyney's honors students will participate in a conflict resolution program this spring with West Chester students,” Kent said.
Students of the Keystone Honors Academy also participate in study abroad programs that have visited countries all throughout Europe, Ghana, Egypt, China, and parts of South America. This year students will visit England as the program continues to encourage appreciation for other cultures and their educational practices.
With more than 500 alumni that are represented in fields including law, medicine, public administration, business administration, public health and public health administration, the Keystone Honors Academy has gradually made an imprint throughout Delaware County, the greater region and the world.
Former Cheyney University National Association for the Advancement of Colored People advisor and Director of Recreation for the City of Coatesville, Felicia Seamon, is a proud Cheyney University alumna that has witness firsthand the benefits of the Keystone Honors Academy.
“I know many of the graduates personally and I believe that the Honors Academy, through its rigorous standards, conference and event commitments, afford students the ability to stand out both professionally and socially,” she said.
Founder of the Gift Preparatory School and ReCreate Summer Camp, Seamon is “forever invested” and a “continued supporter of the staff persons” that manage the Keystone Honors Academy. “We are literally standing on the shoulders of every person who thought that it was important that education be accessible to every being.”
One such luminary and education advocate epitomizing Seamon’s sentiments, Dr. Maya Angelou, will appear on Cheyney University’s campus in support of the Keystone Honors Academy. On March 22 Maya Angelou will be the featured guest during a VIP reception and lecture which is open to the general public.
A recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees and numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Angelou’s appearance is being partially funded by Philadelphia headquartered AmeriHealth Mercy and a Pennsylvania Department of Education Higher Education Assistance Grant.
For information about sponsoring the events, please contact Mandy Santiago, Director of Development, at 610.399.2154. Tickets may be purchased online, onsite at the Cheyney University Office of the Bursar (First Floor, Wade Wilson Building), or by calling 610.399.2121. All proceeds from the events will benefit Keystone Honors Academy students.
Thanks to the United States Department of Education, all 97 Historically Black Colleges and Universities — including regional schools Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University — are a bit richer.
The 97 schools will receive a combined $227.9 million, with Cheyney getting $1,712,647, while Lincoln received $2,081,149. The grant is funded through the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program, and it is designed to financially assist HBCUs and their presidents as they seek to establish or strengthen their physical plants, financial management, academic resources and endowment-building capacity.
According the Department of Education, these five-year grants will also include other programs and initiatives, such as curriculum reform; enhanced counseling and other student services; establishing teacher education programs; acquiring real estate, and funding faculty and staff development.
“HBCUs have made enduring, even staggering contributions to American life despite the steep financial challenges many have faced,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The grants will help these important institutions continue to provide their students with the quality education they need to compete in the global economy.”
Calls seeking comment from both Cheyney and Lincoln University were unreturned as of Tribune press time.
This grant couldn’t have arrived at a better time, as several HBCUs are facing a financial crunch from dwindling enrollment, evaporating alumni donations and shrinking federal kick-ins. Both Fisk University and Wilberforce University have both been in the news recently due to their respective bleak financial outlooks; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had to step in and help Cheyney receive vital financing it needed to maintain its campus.
Of the 97 HBCUs to receive this grant money, the ones located in North Carolina were doled the biggest checks. North Carolina A&T State University received $5,246,940, while North Carolina Central University received $4,090,693. Outside of North Carolina’s sweep, Florida A&M University received $6,596,639, while Alabama State University received $3,994,637.
The sums were mixed for other well-known HBCUs, as Tuskegee University got $2,279,998, and Stillman College received $1,742,200; Grambling State University came away with $3,444,511.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of the smaller HBCUs didn’t fare as well. The tiny, two-year, biblical HBCU Shorter College in Arkansas received half a million, while a similar theological school — South Carolina’s Clinton Junior College — received $250,000.