Meharry proves Black College Fund impact, relevance

Education as a core value of The United Methodist Church emanates from the earliest days of the Methodist movement in 18th-century England. John Wesley's vision of making education accessible to all continues to inspire the church.

Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the 11 historically black colleges and universities that the fund Black College Fund supports. One of the oldest and largest historically black academic health-science centers in the United States., Meharry is Dedicated to educating physicians, dentists, researchers and health policy experts in the U.S.

It is also home to Henry Anderson Atwater II. He served in several capacities over four decades at the medical college, including director of student life and student services. Today, Atwater works about 32 hours a week, primarily giving tours of the school. He takes the responsibility seriously and considers it a calling. "It's not my only calling," Atwater says. "But I do think this is a way I can make a difference, especially at this stage of my career. If I didn't feel like I was making a difference, I'd go home."

Atwater's connection to Meharry dates back to the early 1900s. "As a child," he says, "I remember my Great-Aunt Maggie, who finished Meharry Medical College in 1905." Because educational opportunities were scarce for women, Maggie's accomplishment was a source of pride for Atwater's family. "This was a big deal in our family. We've got not only a college graduate, but a graduate from Meharry."

Atwater gives tours as if the school's existence depended on it. "People fly in from all over the world to tour this campus," he says. "I don't think they flew in to look at buildings. I want to give them something they can take away with them. It is my job to spread the good news of Meharry Medical College."

The good news of Meharry is the same good news that the Black College Fund and the General Board of Higher and Ministry is striving to share: United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities are still relevant and essential.

Says Atwater, "We are still alive. We are still carrying out that mission that we started better than 140 years ago. To help the poor and the underserved. To educate students – some who might not have a chance to get their education anywhere else."

Atwater, who never anticipated remaining at Meharry for 40 years, cannot envision himself anywhere else. To him, Meharry is more than just a school or hospital. It is a place where something powerful is happening.   

"The motto of Meharry is 'Worship of God through Service to Mankind,'" he notes. "Our students learn from the beginning that what they do is not just a job. They are expressing their love for God by serving."

So, too, is Henry Atwater II.

Tyrus B. Sturgis, senior communications associate, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.