Houston Forward Times

18 June 2013 Written by 

NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN - Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell Inspires Others To Embrace History At Juneteenth Celebration

Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell Inspires Others To Embrace History At Juneteenth Celebration. Attendees from Missouri City and all across the Greater Houston area gathered at the Quail Valley City Centre on June 13th to help the Missouri City Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (MCJCF) celebrate their annual Community Service Awards Gala during their week of Juneteenth activities. The Community Service Awards Gala recognizes community leaders who exemplify conviction, purpose and enthusiasm as responsible citizens in the community.

Sorrell-and-BoneyThis year’s keynote speaker was Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell.

Michael J. Sorrell is the 34th President of Paul Quinn College and the reigning “HBCU Male President of the Year”. Michael received his J.D. and M.A. in Public Policy from Duke University and in September 2007, assumed the position of president, after serving as the interim president since March of that year.

Paul Quinn is the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi, originally founded in 1872 by African Methodist Episcopal preachers. Under his leadership, Sorrell has helped Paul Quinn experience one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of higher education.

President Sorrell kept the crowd of nearly 300 people engaged and inspired with his mix of humour and real life results. Sorrell shared how he inherited some serious challenges at Paul Quinn and how he had to establish an aggressive agenda that would help transform the school into one of America’s great small colleges.

When Sorrell took over Paul Quinn in 2007, he stated that the school had only 30 days of cash left and that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was preparing to put the school on probation that summer, to which he had to sue SACS to keep the school from closing.

He stated that he had long knew about the rich history of Paul Quinn College, but believed and saw that the current generation of students were not aware or proud of the school’s history and did not embrace it by their actions.

Not only had enrollment fallen below 600 students during his first week on campus at Paul Quinn, he had also noticed how the students had no discipline or structure in their lives. Sorrell spoke about how he instituted a “business casual” dress code on campus in order to prepare students for life after college.

When Sorrell took over at Paul Quinn, only five seniors were eligible to graduate and the school had open enrollment, which meant that if a student could pay or get a loan, they could attend with no questions asked.

Sorrell implemented an admissions policy and created an admissions department to enforce it. To be considered, applicants needed a 2.5 GPA, a 500-word entrance essay, a letter of recommendation, an interview and a headshot. Students who were failing, couldn’t write the entrance essay or who sent improper photos of themselves were no longer able to get in.

In addition, the school had almost id="mce_marker" million of uncollected money that was owed by students, which impacted the school’s overall credit rating. As a result, every student who owed money got kicked out of the school.

Sorrell spoke about the decision he made in the spring of 2007, when he cut the school’s football program, which in Texas was a big deal.

“First off, it cost us $600,000 a year to maintain the football program at Paul Quinn,” said Sorrell. “Secondly and most importantly, the team wasn’t good and was at the center of almost every disciplinary problem on campus. It had to go.”

In May 2010, Sorrell decided to turn their unused football field into a farm that produced farm products that they were able to sell for revenue.   Sorrell stated that the Dallas Cowboys are their largest consumer and purchaser of their harvest products which includes kale, spinach, potatoes, watermelon, arugula and more. They also dedicate 10 percent of their harvest which goes to neighborhood families and food banks.

Among the school’s numerous accomplishments during President Sorrell’s tenure have been: winning the “2011 HBCU of the Year” and the “2012 HBCU Student Government Association of the Year”; demolishing 15 abandoned campus buildings; partnering with PepsiCo to transform the unused football field into the two acre “WE over Me Farm”; achieving full-accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS); attaining four consecutive unqualified audits for the first time in school history; creating a new admissions policy (and enrolling the top academic class in school history); establishing the Presidential Scholars Program; adopting a school-wide business casual dress code; securing the two largest single donor gifts in the history of the institution; earning six and seven-figure year-end budget surpluses in three of the last four years; and modernizing all institutional operations.

His vision is to continue and transform Paul Quinn into one of America’s great small colleges by focusing on servant leadership, entrepreneurship, and academic rigor.

In addition to Sorrell’s many personal and professional accomplishments, one act of humility and realness that stood out was when he admitted to the audience that he was most excited about being asked to serve as the keynote speaker at the MCJCF Community Service Awards Gala because he had not really known the history about Juneteenth until he was asked to speak.

“I have to be honest,” said Sorrell. “I did not know anything about Juneteenth until I was asked to speak and I am so glad that I was. It forced me to learn more about Juneteenth, which is an important part of Black history and now I can share this important part of our history with our students at Paul Quinn College. Thank you for helping me.”

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas on June 19, 1865.

The Community Service Awards Gala was well attended and the 2013 honorees included Attorney Jarvis V. Hollingsworth, Judge Debra Champagne, Cynthia Turner and Attorney Harry E. Johnson who is the President and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.

Among those in attendance at the Community Service Awards Gala were MCJCF founder Don Smith and his wife Etta; Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen; MCJCF Honorary Chair and State Representative Ron Reynolds and his wife Dr. Jonita Reynolds; Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage; Missouri City Councilman Danny Nguyen; Missouri City Councilman Floyd Emery; Constable Ruben Davis; Judge Joel Clouser; Cary P. Yates and his wife Judge Clarease Yates; newly-elected Missouri City Councilwoman Yolanda Ford; Clarence “Doc” Holliday; Loveless Mitchell; and many more.

MAA WereReady