Morgan State University President David K. Wilson has no shortage of accomplishments that he can rightfully be proud of at the institution he has led since 2010. There’s the procurement of the university’s largest-ever research contract, a $28.5-million, five-year contract from NASA. There’s the internationally known and accredited School of Global Journalism and Communication he created in 2013. There’s the transformation of the physical campus with the construction of state-of-the-art facilities, ranging from the Tyler Hall Student Service Building to the Morgan Business Center.
But the accomplishment that he holds dearest is the $5 Scholarship Fund he established in 2011. It’s personal for him.
The fund, which is dedicated to helping Morgan students who are having financial difficulties stay in school, commemorates one of the most important moments of Dr. Wilson’s life: the day he left the sharecropper’s shack in rural Alabama, where he lived with his father, mother and nine siblings to become a student at Tuskegee University. There he would graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees before continuing on to Harvard University, where he would earn a master’s and doctorate in education.
Dr. Wilson says he never completed a full school year before the seventh grade, because he had to leave the classroom to help his father, who could neither read nor write, in the fields. And, yet, with the encouragement of a caring teacher, he had blossomed as a student and gained entry to Tuskegee.
As he packed in the pre-dawn darkness on the day of his departure, his father called him aside. He told the young man he had been saving for years for this day.
“He reached his hands in his overalls and he pulled out something he called a piece of money and he asked me to hold out my hand and put this piece of money in my hand and put his hand over mine,” Dr. Wilson says. “And I looked in his face, and he was crying. I had never seen my father cry. "
Dr. Wilson’s voice cracked as he voiced his father’s words to him: “‘Son, this is all that I have, but I am investing this in you because I believe in you. And more importantly, you believe in yourself. And I may not be around to witness this, but you will go far.’”
The 67-year-old educator remembered standing on the front porch of what he calls his family’s “shanty house” as the sun was coming up and seeing in his hand the $5 bill that his father had given him.
“The investment my father made in me, I could not disappoint him, because it was such a struggle for him to save five dollars,” Dr. Wilson says today.
“And so, when you come into my office at Morgan, there’s a little shelf,” he continued. “On this shelf are the most important things in my life. And there on the shelf is a replica of the $5 bill my father gave to me. I have a small sample of a bale of cotton there to remind that I had to put a sack across my shoulder and pick it. I also have a little picture of my father, mother and late brother. And then, I have a jar of black dirt which is taken from our shanty house to remind me of our connectedness to the soil. So for me, the motivation has been the faith and investment my father made in me.”
Part of Dr. Wilson’s skill as a leader, according to those who have worked with him, is in the faith and investments he has made in them.
“Dr. Wilson leads by example. He’s a commander who can often be found on the front lines of the efforts to project Morgan to the city, state and nation. But he gives his field commanders — his vice presidents and deans — the space and support to do their jobs,” says DeWayne Wickham, the recently retired founding dean of the School of Global Journalism & Communication. He was one of Dr. Wilson’s first hires.
“Dr. Wilson is a journalism dean’s dream come true. He understands the power and relevance of media to a university, and to the world into which it sends its students,” Mr. Wickham added. “And he knows that Morgan is uniquely positioned to produce journalists and strategic communication specialists who will bring more diversity of body and mind to this nation’s media.”
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chair of the Morgan State’s Board of Regents, says, “Very little happens in higher education where Dr. Wilson is not called upon to give his advice and or his thoughts. It’s fair to say he is a rare bird among college presidents who still believes students are our most important product.”
As a one-time student, teacher, radio show host and now regent, Mr. Mfume feels he takes a back seat to no one in his love of Morgan State. But President Wilson, he says, is right there with him in sharing that passion.
“He left Harvard and the University of Wisconsin, went out on a date with an HBCU and fell in love,” Mr. Mfume says. “Morgan is his life and his life’s work. I can’t tell you how much the university has grown and excelled under his leadership. I just can’t get him to take vacation. I worry about him because he works so hard for the school.”
David K. Wilson
Hometown: McKinley, Alabama
Current residence: Baltimore City
Education: B.S., political science; M.S., educational administration, Tuskegee University; M.Ed., Ed.D., Harvard University.
Career highlights: Tenth president of Morgan State University; former chancellor of University of Wisconsin College and the University of Wisconsin–Extension; vice president for university outreach and associate provost at Auburn University; associate provost of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Civic and charitable activities: Former chairman of the HBCU/China Network, member of the Maryland Cybersecurity Council and the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Governing Board; serves on the boards of directors of: the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Member of President Barack Obama’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; previously served on the board of the United Way of Central Maryland
Family: Divorced, one son