In the days leading up to the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Dr. Byron K. Edmond went looking for a party.
A 1986 graduate of Morehouse College, the Washington, D.C.-area anesthesiologist wanted to find a gathering centered around one of black America’s most important institutions, historically black colleges and universities.
“I looked and I asked, but there was nothing planned for HBCUs,” Edmond said. “So we created one.”
On Friday, Edmond and the Morehouse College National Alumni Association will host a “Living Legends” reception in West Overlook area of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to highlight the contributions of black colleges and celebrate the new Smithsonian museum, while raising money for Morehouse.
The reception was originally scheduled to be held at the Carnegie Library, but was changed late Thursday.
“Then on Saturday morning, we will put on our school colors and support the opening of the museum,” Edmond said.
The involvement of “Morehouse men” further highlights Atlanta’s connection to the museum. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., spent nearly three decades fighting to establish the museum, which will include many Georgia artifacts.
Andrew Young, a Howard University graduate, is the honorary co-chair of the Living Legends event, which will also feature baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron; Morehouse President John Silvanus Wilson; former Surgeon General David Satcher; former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan; and United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax.
There will also be a first showing of a trailer to the upcoming documentary on the life of former Atlanta mayor and Morehouse graduate Maynard Jackson, directed by Samuel Pollard.
“It means a lot for the trailer to publicly be shown to the alums of Maynard’s alma mater,” said Wendy Eley Jackson, the late mayor’s daughter-in-law and executive producer of the film.
Morehouse College’s most famous graduate, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., will be represented in exhibits, although the museum was not able to cut a deal with the King Family to secure personal items.
There is a display on black colleges, including a quote from local attorney and radio personality Mo Ivory reading: “Spelman College taught me the meaning of womanhood and my place as a black woman in this world. I graduated with a degree in confidence, self-esteem, perseverance and determination.”
Ivory, whose daughter attends an HBCU, said having her quote selected was the honor of her life.
Edmond said the idea for a Living Legends reception came to him in a series of coincidences. First, the new Smithsonian museum would draw major attention to African-American contributions while drawing thousands of people to Washington for the opening.
Second, the new museum would further illuminate the problems that black communities and black institutions still face, such as underfunded HBCUs.
Edmond recalled a conversation with a long-ago graduate of Morris Brown College. Morris Brown is a stone’s throw from Morehouse in Atlanta, but the school is broke, unaccredited and falling apart.
“She told me that if we (Morehouse alums) didn’t get our act together, we were going to be like they are now. That hit me. As a small school, we are not going to survive unless we do the extraordinary,” Edmond said. “So we wanted to do a major fundraiser that would correspond with the opening of the museum. To take advantage of this large gathering at a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Edmond is hoping to raise between $150,000 and $500,000 for the gala. Tickets range from $150 for general admission to $250 for VIP. Proceeds will go to the college’s “Opportunity Fund,” which is used as a last-resort funding source for financially struggling upperclassman at Morehouse.
Prior to attending Friday night’s event, some 45 Morehouse students will spend the morning recruiting at D.C.-area high schools, including McKinley Technology High School, where the last four Student Government Association presidents have matriculated to Morehouse.
“As men of Morehouse, we are bringing 45 young men, representing all parts of this country, to Washington to share our stories,” said one of those former SGA presidents, Johnathan Hill, 21, who is Morehouse’s SGA president. “As the only institution of its kind (Morehouse is the nation’s only black, all-male HBCU), it is amazing to see the impact we will have in Washington. … We need to make sure we do this more often.”