By HOWARD MANN
Howard University athletics director Louis “Skip” Perkins was at work one day, minding his own business, when a Bison Express member stopped by. Perkins is hoping that many more visitors bring such good tidings to his office.
Shortly after the welcome interruption, $25,000 was added to the budget. Perkins, Bison Express chairman Bruce Williams and vice chairman Thomas Payne took a picture with “the check” on Feb. 1, as North Carolina Central visited Burr Gymnasium for men’s and women’s basketball games.
“This came from a tremendous donor who wants to remain anonymous and totally help the athletic department,” Perkins said. “It’s just someone who genuinely cares about the athletic program and wants to see us succeed. He knew we had some facility issues and things like that. We’re very grateful.”
Perkins said it marked the largest single donation from an individual during his tenure, which began in January 2011. Twenty-five grand is a lot of money, even with the acknowledgement that dollar amounts are relative.
At the Charter Day gala on March 8, the university announced a $4.9 million gift from the trust of Dr. Richard “Frank” Jones, who received his bachelor’s from Howard in 1919 and his M.D. in 1922. Another seven-figure donation came from Radio One CEO Alfred C. Liggins, who gave $4 million to the School of Communications in honor of his mother, Radio One chairwoman/founder and Howard alum Cathy Hughes.
Those gifts were the lion’s share of more than $10 million raised as Howard celebrated its 147th anniversary. But Perkins doesn’t want folks to focus on the number of zeroes on a check.
“It doesn’t matter if someone is writing a check for $250, $100 or $2,500 dollars,” he said. “Every bit counts. As athletic departments, we all operate at a deficit. Only 11 schools in the country don’t. We have so many different needs – from facilities and scholarships to books and equipment. It all helps and it all counts. We appreciate anyone who reaches out to help us.”
The challenges facing HBCUs, in general, and Howard, in particular, have received a lot of attention over the last several months. Alumni giving – or lack thereof – comes up often in such discussions. “I Love Howard,” a grassroots effort, began recently with the modest goal of raising $20,000 for the university’s endowment.
Perkins said the instinct to give has to be instilled before students become alumni.
“We have to train our young people once they come to HBCUs as freshmen,” he said. “They have to know we’re going to need their support once they walk out these doors in four or five years. We have to educate them and help them understand how important it is.
“The best part is they can give anywhere because we need help in all areas. Whether it’s an academic major, athletics, the library – there’s no donation we can’t accept. It can be in-kind, cash, estate, will, whatever. We just can’t wait until they graduate and they’re gone 10 years and ask them to write a check. We have to find ways to keep them connected and embrace them at all times.”
The mysterious Bison Express donor insisted on remaining anonymous and Perkins assured him that would be the case. The gift wasn’t earmarked. Perkins said it probably will go toward the athletics department’s academic center and weight room, “which we’d like to have done before the end of this fiscal year.”
Whatever the goal, Perkins’ department was $25,000 closer after his special visitor that day.