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Monday, August 20, 2007

Detroit's mayor tells what made Florida A&M special

By Marc Silver
US News & World Report

The mayor of Detroit is not only a mover and a shaker but a Rattler, too—a graduate of Florida A&M, one of the nation's 103 historically black colleges and universities. Kwame Kilpatrick played high school football in Detroit in the late 1980s and was courted by Bowling Green and Michigan State, but after visiting Florida A&M he says he "felt an embracing I hadn't felt before." He majored in political science, taught middle school for three years, attended law school, and was elected mayor in 2001 at age 31. U.S. News asked him about his college experience.

Let's be blunt: There's a perception that historically black schools aren't the equal of other universities.

That's one of the biggest misconceptions. It's funny to me that [some] African-Americans and whites believe if they go to Howard, it's not as good as Georgetown and they're not going to get the job. When you look at executives at companies around the world, a lot of the African-Americans went to historically black schools. They may have [earned a master's or doctorate] through Harvard or Wharton, but the schools where they started gave them the confidence to achieve a Harvard or Wharton education.

So you're satisfied with your education?

It was second to none. When I went to law school at Michigan State, I thanked God every day for the experience I had at Florida A&M: It was educational and nurturing; there was a willingness to allow you to make mistakes but not to fail.

How did Florida A&M treat its students?

The mission was clear: Mommy and Daddy are gone, and you have an obligation to prepare yourself to lead. The president, Frederick Humphries, and the faculty spoke about what we had to give back. That kept us focused in the midst of hanging out and having a good time.

Was your college experience too segregated?

You're never really segregated. You're in Tallahassee. Four blocks away is Florida State, 40,000 students of all ethnicities.

Any other skills you picked up at college?

I played football in 100-degree weather, 98 percent humidity. I learned to persevere.


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