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HBCU President shares secret sauce to reviving Morris Brown

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Dr. Kevin James, the 19th president of Morris Brown College, never stopped believing in the potential of Atlanta’s most unique HBCU.

As the only Historically Black College or University in Atlanta that was founded and funded by Black people, Dr. Kevin James has propelled the campus from obscurity to international appeal.

When Morris Brown lost its accreditation in 2002, it meant no more federal funding, no more financial aid, and less value for degrees students earned. Yet, what many saw as a lost cause, President James recognized as a glaring opportunity.

hbcu president
Photo courtesy of Morris Brown College

In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times Tuesday, he shared his secret sauce to success.

“My secret is not taking no for an answer. My secret is finding that special sauce to solve difficult problems. A lot of the problems that we’ve had were problems that had never been solved,” Dr. Kevin James said.

Bringing Morris Brown back from the brink

After becoming interim president in 2019, he was appointed on a permanent basis a year later. Since then, he’s restored Morris Brown’s accreditation, financial aid and has overseen a resurgence in new programs and partnerships.

The HBCU president partnered with Hilton to establish a $40 million hotel for hospitality students and expanded partnerships for MBC’s master’s in Business Administration.

He also led Morris Brown to becoming the first HBCU to establish a system-wide agreement with Technical College System of Georgia, just to name a few.

Ultimately, Dr. James has kept Morris Brown in the spotlight.

“No HBCU has come back and got its accreditation 20 years after losing it,” he said. “They thought I was crazy. They thought I was a quack.”

Morris Brown College President Kevin James. (Photo courtesy of MBC)

As of this year, Morris Brown is now accepting international students. Under Dr. James’s leadership, the student body grew from 20 to 350 since becoming fully accredited in 2022.

Despite the accomplishments, Dr. James said reviving the status of Morris Brown wasn’t the most difficult part of his tenure.

“My most difficult problem was getting people to believe that what we were attempting to do was even possible,” he said.

HBCU President Dr. Kevin James sought to serve since 2001

Coming from a family of educators, Dr. James knew he wanted to serve students. As a young college graduate in September 2001, Dr. James said he couldn’t find a job amidst the fallout from the 9/11 terror attacks.

After six months of unemployment, Dr. James finally found a job instructing non-traditional adult students. While many of his relatives educated children, he became passionate about serving those above high school age.

A tip from a mentor gave him tips on how to become a college president, tips that became etched in his mind like stone. Dr. James received his master’s degree in 2004 and a doctorate in 2009. He eventually became a college professor and a dean.

By 2018, while serving as CEO of 100 Black Men of America, a position opened up as president of Morris Brown. Dr. James jumped at the chance. Three interviews later, he’d succeeded at becoming president of the historic HBCU.

“I believe with my whole heart that God sent me to Morris Brown College,” he told The Black Wall St. Times.

His self-starter journey mimics the rich and unique history of the campus itself. Unlike most HBCUs that were formed through White philanthropic dollars, the story of Morris Brown is a story of ownership and self-determination.

Founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881, Black leaders saw a need for their own university and sprang into action.

Bishop Morris Brown

Over 140 years after Morris Brown College first opened its doors, President Dr. Kevin James restored them and ensured they would never close.

“The special sauce I think is I have this mantra I tell my team all the time: Fix it. There are no excuses. That’s the mantra I live by,” Dr. James said.

What’s next for HBCU President?

Moving forward, Dr. James wants to ensure Morris Brown remains the most affordable college for students in Atlanta.

“I want all of our students, when they graduate, either they already have a job offer or they’re accepted into grad school,” he said.

Ultimately, he refuses to settle for good enough. Dr. James remains on a mission to ensure Morris Brown has the best facilities, culture, safe environment and resources for students.

“To make sure students have everything they need to be able to go out into the world and compete on a global stage, and do well as a Morris Brown College graduate.”

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