Tuskegee Group “Ball And Parlay” To Unity
A group of concerned Tuskegee alumni, in the vernacular of the university’s fight song, “Ball and Parlay,” are moving towards one unified voice in their efforts to address problems on the historic college campus.
“Ball and Parlay” is a popular tune which has been played at Tuskegee football games since the mid 1980s. When defeat is knocking at the Golden Tigers’ door, the band strikes up this song, students and alumni alike, will get to their feet singing the lyrics and gyrating their bodies, seemingly in an uncontrollable fashion. Their voices starting out low, then rising to a feverish pitch.
In a telephone conference call this week, Tuskegee alumni from across America, representing a cross-section of age groups, convened to discuss direct political action steps they plan to take during next week’s Board of Trustees meeting. This session is slated to be held on campus.
The conference call was organized by Cathea Simelton. She had her hands full trying to keep calm in the group as new members were brought into the discussion for the first time. Simelton had been a part of a subcommittee of the Atlanta Tuskegee Alumni Club that had been tasked with listening to the rumors, complaints and issues coming out of Tuskegee. The subcommittee was given the name of “Listening Committee.”
After a year of intense listening, this committee issued it’s report to the Atlanta Tuskegee Alumni Club. Their study separated fact from fiction and issued a report detailing several problem areas from the administrative ability of President Brian Johnson, financial stability of the university and accreditation issues. The Listening Committee concluded that they did not have confidence in President Johnson nor the Board of Trustees to resolve the financial and accreditation issues. They recommended that the Atlanta Tuskegee Alumni Club go on record as issuing a vote of “no confidence” in the job performance of both President Johnson and the Board.
After a lengthy discussion a vote was taken. Both measures passed overwhelmingly. The Club’s president was instructed to forward the “no confidence” vote to the southeast region president for action. After this general membership meeting had adjourned, the executive board of the Atlanta club declined to forward the “no confidence” vote up the chain of command. To add insult to injury, the official leadership of the alumni association pretended that no such vote was ever taken and approved.
This lack of respect for the Listening Committee’s work horrified and angered members of this committee. Many of them organized the Concerned Tuskegee Alumni group. This group again went to work and developed a strategy to address issues at the university. During last week’s conference call, it was decided to expand membership to other alumni throughout the country.
When the Concerned Tuskegee Alumni group met this week, alumni representing practically every region of the country were represented on the conference call. As usually happens when new members come into a group, they arrive without full knowledge of the work done by the leadership up to that point.
After the group’s leadership laid out their recommended course of action, participants from the Eastern Seaboard region, who had not participated in previous discussions wanted the group to slow down and refocus their plan of attack.
At this point, the Tuskegee Spirit Band might as well have struck up the “Ball and Parlay” song. Voices became loud, enraged, inarticulable!
Confusion ran amuck over the telephone wire. It sounded like people were speaking in tongues, much like the Bible describes the air filled with voices at Pentecost.
Somehow the calming professional demeanor of Simelton got the group to lower the decibels of their discord and refocus on the work necessary to address the issues facing their alma mater.
Those issues are monumental. In addition to the fact that the entire university is facing probation and the possible loss of accreditation in nine months, the School of Veterinary Medicine is already on probation. This is the only Veterinary Medicine school run by a historically black college or university in the country. A loss of its accreditation would be catastrophic, not only to Tuskegee alumni, but the ethos of the African American community. Also, the School of Nursing is awaiting results from the most recent state certification test taken by the school’s graduate to determine if the pass rate is sufficient for the nursing school to keep its doors open.
Meanwhile, in a separate telephone interview this week, an employee of the university, under a promise of confidentiality, said that “morale is at an all time low. Several of my friends tell me that they get sick in the morning as they are preparing to go to work. Stress is a major problem for faculty and staff members at this time. The Faculty Senate would take a vote of no confidence, but they are afraid of losing their jobs. Even tenured faculty members are afraid because Dr. Johnson has stated that he has no problem in firing a tenured professor.”
What usually happens when the Crimson Piper Band strikes up “Ball and Parlay” is that Tuskegee rallies and win. As the song says, “We ball and parlay, we get cronk everyday, that’s what we do, it’s the Tuskegee way!”
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.