Demanding “Parity through Equity,” Former, Current and Future Students Fight to Save Cheyney University.
He was a just a smart black kid from North Philadelphia who worked hard in college and ended up with a full scholarship to law school. Today, with a Center City office, the self-described angriest black man in America works on high-profile cases in a high-rise building, but keeps his boots on the ground.
An activist would be an understatement to describe Attorney Michael Coard; he’s more like a superhero. Fighting injustices from the 36th floor of One Liberty Place—a tower seen from almost every section of nation’s fifth largest city—Coard, who’s been practicing law since 1986, quickly ascends from the skyscraper and joins his “Justice League” on the ground whenever he hears Lady Liberty is up too no good, and that’s quite often, unfortunately.
Upon learning that America’s first President, George Washington, kept nine slaves at his house in Philadelphia (The President’s House)at 6th & Market Streets, Coard in 2002 advocated for a memorial on the exact spot his ancestors were held captive, so that tourist visiting the Liberty Bell would be forced to witness “the hell slaves went through.”
Less than three months ago, it was announced that the remains of up to 3,000 slaves were buried under a city park slated for renovation. Coard, again, was at the “scene of the crime,” and has remained a strong voice advocating for a memorial of substance, not “another blue and yellow plaque.”
With an impressive body of work—both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion—it seems as though all of those heroic acts were just practice rounds as the angry attorney sets his focus on the Governor of Pennsylvania and saving America’s oldest HBCU.
On September 23rd, 1980, a widespread coalition of students, alumni, faculty, staff, regional civil leaders and active citizens, called Heeding Cheyney’s Call, filed a Federal Civil Rights lawsuit to preserve and enhance the historic institution with the goal of “parity through equity”—relative to Pennsylvania’s thirteen traditionally white institutions.
33 years to the date, Coard, along with former, presents and future students of Cheyney University, gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse to announce the resurrection of the lawsuit and their long list of demands.
During an exclusive interview with Techbook Online, I asked Coard how he responds to his critics who suggest he makes everything about race.
“I would say yes you’re right, thank you very much,” he replies jokingly. Switching to a more serious voice, Coard explains:
“The reason I and people like me are here is because of race. We would’ve been fine in 2013 living in Kenya, Ghana and Senegal where we came from. But Europeans came, snatched us, bought us here, and enslaved us for 250 years. I’m the descendants of some of those people. I play the race card because America deals from the race deck.”
While the Governor contends the historically black college is short-changed compared with mainstream institutions, Coard defends his stance, stating:
“For the last ten years, the other 13 colleges and universities have received 90% of the pie and Cheyney only a mere 10%. Now in 2013 they want to make it equal, but equality is insufficient, we want equity, we need to make up for lost time.”
A letter was sent to Governor Corbett in Harrisburg demanding a fair-funding formula. Coard says the current model is “inequitable” and suggests that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awards schools with high student enrollment and punishes those with small numbers.
“The Commonwealth won’t allocate additional funds because they say we don’t have enough students, but we say we don’t have enough students because we’re not getting enough money.”
Heeding Cheyney’s Call alleges an unfair fiscal formula has led to inferior facilities, plummeting enrollment and $14 million in debt, according to a report published last week by The Associated Press.
Although a Maryland judge yesterday ruled favorably for the four HBCU’s involved in $2.1 billion civil rights lawsuit, Pennsylvania State officials say a lawsuit would have no merit. However, they say “forthright discussion” would be more productive.
Coard will pursue such talks as he believes his alma-mater has suffered long enough
“If the days are dark for African-Americans today, they must have dreadfully dark during slavery; so to the extent that our enslaved African ancestor could fight without any real weapons, resources or education, and win, it’s going to be a piece of cake for us!”
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Photo: C. Norris – ©2013/Joined by local and state officials, Attorney Michael Coard, representing Heeding Cheyney’s Call, announces the resurrection of the infamous 1980’s Federal Civil Rights lawsuit.