Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Travis Mitchell Interview

Baltimore - I've talked about Travis Mitchell in the previous article because of what I saw during a protest movement at Morgan State University. The University wasn't exactly happy over his efforts, but gave the school an argument it needed for more funding. His descriptions of his interactions with William Donald Schaefer are unique. While the Governor was surrounded by professional politicians his was out of the ordinary. I caught up with him in his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Charles: When you began the protest at MSU was it your intention to get the governors attention.

Yes. We realized that the ultimate goal of the protest was to negotiate with the key decision maker in the state. Early on it was decided that the protest was not a referendum on -- or a reflection of -- the leadership of Dr. Richardson, rather it was about historic underfunding for Morgan and what could be done to immediately redress past injustices and inequities.

Charles: Did you realize at the time what the reaction would be from the Governor.

We did not realize that we would directly engage with Governor Schaeffer so early on in the process, but we were hoping to do so. His reaction was mixed. Initially, he was digging in his heels to take a hard-line approach toward removing us from the building (our peaceful sit-in at Truth Hall) through the use of the National Guard. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Congressman Kweisi Mfume, and other notable leaders within the African American community advised him to abandon that course of action. Over time, he began to engage in direct dialog with student leaders which was what we wanted.

Charles:Were you surprise when he did the walking tour of the campus to see for himself, and did you have any interaction with him.

I was not surprised that he came as this is what he agreed to do. However, as student leaders it placed us in somewhat of an uncomfortable situation because we wanted to protect the image of the university, but we realized that the public had to see our living conditions in order to understand our plight. One of the most effective outcomes of the movement was for the public to see (TV), hear (radio) and read (print) his reaction on the record.

I had direct interaction with Governor Schaefer as the spokesperson for the protest. He held several meetings with the student leadership and on occasion met with me privately during negotiations.

Charles: Looking back on what happen to school after the protest was their any question in your mind he (Gov. Schaefer) was the catalyst for improvement at the University.

One of the main points that often gets lost is that our protest was mostly about Morgan being able to maintain its independence without being turned into Maryland State or being governed by the Board of Regents for the University of Maryland System. We wanted Morgan to maintain its identity and its own autonomy. At the time Governor Schaefer hinted publicly that Morgan would fair better under the governance of the University of Maryland System. Another idea that was floated at the time was that perhaps it would benefit both Morgan and Coppin State to merge. This is why one of the primary aims of the protest was to dismiss both notions.

A few weeks after we vacated the building, five of us in fact marched from the steps of Truth Hall to the Governor's mansion in Annapolis as a reminder to the Governor that though the legislative session had ended, we wanted him to push through his pledges to expedite our renovation schedule during his Board of Public Works sessions in the summer. He followed through on his promise.Once Governor Schaefer changed his positions on those critical issues, the path was cleared for Morgan's renaissance to begin.

From that point on Governor Schaefer remained a catalyst for the capital improvements on Morgan's campus. He honored his word and his commitment and followed it up with action. His legacy in that regard can be seen on campus today as evidenced by the total renovation, expansion and beautification of the university.

Because my interaction with Governor Schaefer was limited to the Morgan Protest, I have no opinion regarding his political legacy. However, as it relates to Morgan, I am a fan and am grateful for his leadership. Unlike any other professional experience in my life, the weeks, months and years that I spent as a student leader in the movement was by far the most challenging, risky and rewarding. I have to thank Governor Schaefer for giving us the opportunity to excercise or rights as students and for agreeing to fully engage in public dialog and debate with us.

In fact, when I graduated, to my surprise He awarded me with the William Donald Schaefer Award for Outstanding Student Leadership. I was honored. To this day that award seems to represent the paradox that was the man.


Morgan Students take over administration building (mid-March 1990)

Morgan Students lead a 2-mile caravan to Annapolis for a day of protests (Day 4 of protest)

Morgan Students crash Maryland General Assembly closing party (End of Session 1990)

Morgan Students march to Annapolis (May)

Board of Public Works approves expedited renovation plan for Morgan (July 1990)

Renovations begin on dormitories (Fall 1990)

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