‘Hip Hop Prez’ Talks ‘Empire’ at BSU Founders Day

Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, walked through Bowie State University’s history using the popular TV show “Empire” as a metaphor.

Kimbrough delivered the keynote address at the 150th Founders Day Celebration on April 15 at Bowie State University. The convocation is part of the university’s yearlong sesquicentennial celebration.

Kimbrough said that when the show’s patriarch Lucious Lyons started the Empire record company there were only two R&B stations, cassettes and 8-track tapes and fans watched artists on “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”

“Empire” is the number one TV show on streaming services or on demand, he said, pointing out that more people watch on their own time schedule and not during the network’s assigned time-slot.

Similarly schools have to change the way they serve students, Kimbrough said. Students are attracted to online, for-profit schools and the customized educational programs they offer.

Students can no longer use the excuse that they can’t catch up with their professors to get information for their assignments, he said. Information is everywhere. Students have to maximize the technology.

Likewise, professors can no longer be the “sage on the stage,” Kimbrough said. They have to flip classrooms and offer Skype sessions to keep students interested.

Similarly, staff can no longer let people stand in long lines and fail to return phone calls, Kimbrough said. “At Southern New Hampshire University they answer every phone call within nine minutes,” he said. 

And if students click an icon on the SNHU website indicating their interest in attending the school, he said, the university requests the transcript from the previous institution — and pays the fee.

Citing the show’s most popular character, Kimbrough said Bowie State has to be more like Cookie: “She keeps people in check.”

In the HBCU Empire “we have to keep people in check,” Kimbrough said, by emphasizing the good.

“We need to put people in check by saying things that are positive every day. To inherit the Empire we have to uplift people, ” Kimbrough said.

To have a great Empire, black schools need to have solid investors. “We need a Lucious Lyons spirit” at HBCUs, he said.

“I got into school! Here I am! But I don’t have any money!” Kimbrough said.

There are high costs of tuition, technology, maintenance and upkeep, he said, while at the same time corporate and alumni giving is down.

Supporters cannot rely on faith only to keep struggling HBCUs  from going under, he said, like Saint Paul’s College, Knoxville College and Morris Brown College, which all have experienced dwindling enrollments.

 “We have to sacrifice to ensure a quality education for next generation,” he said. HBCUs can’t wait for the state to save them.

“It’s time for the ‘Conquerors’ to stand up,” Kimbrough said, referencing a song from the hit show, “and inherit the Bowie State ‘Empire.'”

—Karima A. Haynes

Ms. Haynes is coordinator of the print journalism program at Bowie State University.