Morris Brown College surprises Benjamin E. Mays High School seniors with college acceptance

Benjamin E. Mays High School in southwest Atlanta. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Just before they broke for lunch last Friday, Benjamin E. Mays High School seniors gathered for an assembly. 

School administrators told them the meeting was to announce awards – valedictorian, salutatorian and senior superlatives. 

But there was more in store for the Mays Class of 2024. 

All 272 seniors had been admitted to Morris Brown College, a Georgia HBCU and Atlanta University Center member.

The only stipulation is that they graduate with above a 2.0 GPA.

Morris Brown President Kevin James joined the seniors to make the announcement.

Morris Brown President Kevin James speaking to the seniors at Mays High School on April 19th, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

He started with a lesson about his HBCU. 

“We were founded back in 1881,” he began. “What makes our institutions very unique is because we’re the only Black college in the state of Georgia that was actually founded by Black people, for Black people.”

But the school’s journey since 1881 has not been easy. 

Morris Brown lost its accreditation in 2002. Without accreditation, the school could no longer access federal funding, including federal financial aid and Pell grants, and could not offer international student visas. 

“It’s so many HBCUs that have lost their accreditation that are still closed today,” James said. “That usually is a death sentence for an institution.”

But, “Somehow, someway Morris Brown kept pushing on.”

Morris Brown Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services, James Freddy Allen, wearing a Morris Brown bomber jacket. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

“When I started as president of Morris Brown five years I go…I felt like God sent me to do this life work… to restore Morris Brown College to its full restoration,” James continued. 

In 2022, the college announced it had received full accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a Virginia-based accreditation agency.

When James became president, Morris Brown had about 20 students. It will have more than 500 next fall. 

James offered the seniors another lesson: Their school’s namesake – Benjamin Elijah Mays – was one of Morehouse College’s longest-serving presidents. Mays was a Baptist minister and a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. who helped lay the intellectual foundation for the Civil Rights Movement.

James said that Mays inspired him to do the work he does now. The two are both members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., a historically Black fraternity. 

“This high school – Benjamin E. Mays – is a historic institution, just like Morris Brown is,” James told the seniors. 

Mays seniors react to being admitted to Morris Brown College on April 19th, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Mays’ legacy as a space for Black education goes beyond name alone. About 98% of the Mays senior class is Black. 

Mays’ Principal Ramon Garner said that makes the high school an especially tight-knit community. 

“And the great thing about it is that [alumni] come back and they pour into our students,” he said. “And [the students’] charge is to do the same.”

Jaydan Price, a senior at Mays. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

That connection is why Jaydan Price – a current Mays senior – said he plans to attend Morris Brown next year. 

“The real question is, why not? Why wouldn’t I go?” he said. “When you have a community and a school built on history and legacy, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”

By going to Morris Brown, Price says he will continue to walk on the shoulders of giants, just as he has done at Mays.  

“It’s history,” he said. “It’s a legacy to keep and an image to uphold.”

The Benjamin E. Mays High School shield. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Note of disclosure: Atlanta Public Schools holds WABE’s broadcast license.

DorMiya Vance and Matthew Pearson contributed to this report.