A View from the Classroom: Supporting Rosenwald School Advocates

Posted on: January 16th, 2013 by Special Contributor
C.S. Brown Cultural Arts Center and Museum | Marvin T. Jones

C.S. Brown Cultural Arts Center and Museum | Marvin T. Jones

By: Marvin T. Jones

At more than 10,000 square feet, our C.S. Brown Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C., may be the largest of the existing Rosenwald Schools. With a building this size, our board has quite a challenge on its hands. We are expanding our programs and considering some building improvements, since it has been 26 years since our last renovation. For these reasons, we jumped at the opportunity to attend a regional Board Development and Fundraising workshop given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation last November.

The two-day workshop was held in eastern North Carolina’s city of Williamston, which is centrally located for the six Rosenwald preservation boards that were invited. At the Church of the Advent’s fellowship hall, we met our hosts from the Roanoke River Center, owners of Hamilton Rosenwald School, as well as the other workshop participants.

Board members attending the workshop came from all walks of life. Our own board is integrated by race and age. Some of our board members never attended our school, and in my case, I left C.S. Brown School before graduating to attend a previously all-white high school.

Howard Calhoun of Princeton Rosenwald School making a point to Rob Bull. | Credit: Marvin T. Jones

Howard Calhoun of Princeton Rosenwald School making a point to Rob Bull. | Credit: Marvin T. Jones

In additional to the National Trust staff, we were joined by staff from the Conservation Trust, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Preservation Office, and the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Our trainer, Robert Bull, a Baltimore-based consultant on nonprofit issues, led sessions on the craft of board governance and fundraising. We learned about fiscal accountability, committee structure, goal setting, and fundraising. Robert gave us exercises to help us understand the role of the board, identify our strengths and weaknesses, understand the relationship between grantors and grantees, and make the request for money. He stressed that two important tools in fundraising are your own donations of time, brains, money, and effort; the other is to pitch a moving story of your school’s history and heritage.

Attendees also learned about the difference between governance and management; the role and duties of board members (attendance at meetings, financial support, committee participation, etc.); how to plan for the succession for board members as they rotate off; and how to develop a working fundraising plan. This session gave participants the information they need to establish a financially secure nonprofit with a strong board able to meet the challenges and vision of the future.

During breaks and lunch we mingled, and I learned that one of the board members of Williamston’s E.J. Hayes Alumni Association is a cousin of mine. As a “cousin-collector,” that is always fun.

C.S. Brown Board Members (l-r) Berna Stephens, Jochen Kunstler, Caroline Stephenson and Mary Harrell Sessions.| Credit: Marvin T. Jones

C.S. Brown Board Members (l-r) Berna Stephens, Jochen Kunstler, Caroline Stephenson and Mary Harrell Sessions.| Credit: Marvin T. Jones

Robert challenged attendees at end of the first day to develop a vision for their boards that can be achieved in the next six months and three objectives that will fulfill that vision. Robert said that he will call us after one, three, and six months to check on our progress toward fulfilling our vision. This was a little scary for some of us, but with Robert’s encouragement, we are willing to take the leap forward.

At the workshop’s end, we were treated to a tour of the original E.J. Hayes Rosenwald School in Williamston, given by their board’s alumni association.  Hayes is a U-shaped brick building with numerous classrooms surrounding the central auditorium/gymnasium combination. We were inspired to learn that the E.J. Hayes Alumni Association recently received a $500,000 grant to renovate the school.

Our board members learned valuable skills in this workshop. We broadened our preservation network and no longer work in a vacuum. We developed close relationships with preservation and cultural professionals, and created an action plan that we can implement. When Robert calls to check on our progress—we will be ready. We have already convened a special meeting of the C.S. Brown Board to discuss our experience in Williamston, and we expect to achieve our goals.

Marvin T. Jones is a commercial photographer in Washington, D.C.  He is also the executive director of the Chowan Discovery Group whose mission is to research, document, preserve and present the history of the Winton Triangle in Hertford County. The Triangle is a 260-year-old community of landowning tri-racial people, and the C.S. Brown School is the largest institution created by the Winton Triangle. Visit www.chowandiscovery.org.