Shaw University Trustee Willie E. Gary Vows to Rebuild

Devastated by a tornado, the North Carolina HBCU shuts down.

Posted: 04/20/2011 02:26 PM EDT
Filed Under HBCU

The amateur video has thousands of hits on YouTube and Twitter and was seen worldwide on CNN, BET and Inside Edition. Shaw University student Julius Stukes Jr, in the midst of the storm's aftermath, gave play-by-play details about the tornado that shut down the South’s oldest historically Black college and university—Shaw University. He appealed to the public to pitch in to rebuild, “I really, really need a lot of people to help my school. I love my university with all my heart.”

According to Shaw University trustee, alumnus and famed attorney Willie E. Gary, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and President Obama have both reached out to the university to offer their assistance. Shaw is receiving support from FEMA, and local Mechanics and Farmers Bank has set up a disaster relief fund for Shaw University in wake of the devastating storm damage.  (Related video: Historic HBCU Suffers Tornado Damage)

Shaw University is not new to being in the national stoplight: the Bears are the 2011 CIAA Basketball Champions, and last year comedian Bill Cosby headlined its commencement exercises. But this year’s May 7 graduation ceremony may be bittersweet since the fate of the tornado-devastated campus is still uncertain. Two of the four dorms are uninhabitable and the Willie E. Gary Student Union building and the cafeteria are damaged. While no dollar amount has been assessed to the damage, Gary says it is in the millions.

As many HBCUs enter uncharted territory hammered by federal funding cuts, lack of alumni endowment and mounting criticism from a movement that some say would make HBCUS extinct, Shaw University has also been hit with tough economic times. According to the New York Times, “Shaw’s devastation came just a year after a $31 million loan to refinance the university’s debt forestalled a financial crisis.”

But Gary, who in the past pledged $10 million to Shaw to match the $10 fee the school waived for him when he was a struggling student, is certain that people will help out the nearly 3,000 students—many who are the first generation in their families to attend college.

“A setback is a way of getting you ready for a comeback,” he said. “We are going to rise again, we are going to open our doors in September.”

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