Practicing reciprocity shouldn’t be hard for FAMU alums

Tommy Mitchell

My name is Tommy Mitchell Sr., a native of Tallahassee, Florida (Good Bread Quarters and Frenchtown) and a very proud 1961 graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU).

I have been married to a Rattler for 60 years, my three children attended FAMU and five of my 11 grandchildren are graduates of FAMU. In essence, not only does Audrey and I “Bleed Orange and Green,” but we also “Breed Orange and Green.”

At the FAMU National  Alumni Association Conference in Chicago in June, it was reported that while the university received a record of nearly $25.7 million in donations during the 2022-2023 fundraising campaign, only seven percent represented alumni giving. While I was of the opinion that alumni giving was not high at most colleges, including FAMU and other HBCU Colleges, I was not prepared for that news.

Thus, my love and appreciation for FAMU and Tallahassee made me feel the need to write a letter to Rattlers everywhere, Tallahassee and to other HBCU alumni to remind, appeal and encourage them to reflect upon what role FAMU and other HBCUs  have played in their development and careers.

Since FAMU is essentially an institution with offices, classroom buildings, dormitories, athletic facilities and land that are unable to speak, I’m going to speak for FAMU.

Reciprocity is defined as making a return for something done or given: to give and take mutually; mutual exchange of privileges.

FAMU says “I have been your refuse.” I took you in when others didn’t want you and/or didn’t think you were college material. And early on when you couldn’t go anywhere else, I provided scholarships, financial aid and jobs for you. I educated you and enabled you to develop the level of abilities, confidence and self-esteem to become competent professionals second to no one. You are now outstanding leaders and achievers—you have become educators, doctors, lawyers, movie producers, accountants, corporate executives, university presidents, government officers, and in many cases, very successful entrepreneurs.

Be reminded that I enabled you to earn your degrees (not the fraternity, nor the sorority, nor the athletic team, nor the Marching “100”) and then provided you with a national and international network to be a resource for you so that wherever you went, you would not be alone. You would always have a FAMU contact in a city, state or a country. 

Is Reciprocity in order? Do we owe FAMU? 

Well, if none of the things I just mentioned is applicable, maybe not!  But if the scenario I just described is applicable and you are so proud of your development, constantly wearing the orange and green, and professing to be a proud Rattler that FAMU made you who you are, then “You owe FAMU Big Time!” And if you want FAMU to continue to exist for Rattlers yet unborn, Reciprocity is definitely essential.

Since during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, only seven percent of our alumni gave to the university. We need to be consistent and recommend what we always insist upon when our athletic coaches don’t win or there are serious problems at the university. Reciprocity requires that we fire the “alumni coach.” We must insist that we are better than 10 percent and not only continue to give, but also solicit donations from our family and friends.

On Aug. 5, during our immediate family reunion in Orlando, Audrey and I experienced some of the greatest moments of our 60 years of marriage, simply watching 10 of our 11 grandchildren enjoying the company of their cousins. While I couldn’t resist asking for their attention to tell them “how proud I was of them and how much it meant to us to see them interacting with each other so well, I was also compelled to tell them the “seven percent story” and requested that all five of my Rattler grandchildren, give at least $100 dollars to FAMU annually. When I finished, my daughter-in-law, retired Lieutenant Colonel, Michelle Mitchell, an Air Force graduate, indicated that she too was going to donate. In fundraising, one theory is: “people don’t give to causes, they give to people. It is very important to recognize, that if each graduate ask their family and friends to support FAMU, some of them will give only because they support you.

Tallahassee, think about what FAMU contributes to this city and what this city would be like without Florida A&M University. Since 1887, FAMU has reach unimaginable heights and has developed an image in higher education that is unmatched by most institutions of its size. This has been due to the leadership exhibited by our presidents, the quality of our faculty, and the quality of students recruited by our colleges and schools within the university. And all of this extraordinary talent has spilled over into our neighborhoods, schools and churches, and enhanced the quality of life in a very positive manner. Frequently, individuals and families come to Tallahassee from major cities very unimpressed and just can’t imagine making this city their permanent home and frequently they never leave.

Based on reports from the city and the Chamber of Commerce, FAMU has a tremendous impact on this city’s economy. For a few years, I have talked to a few city officials and a couple of businessmen about the possibility of an annual event where the business community demonstrate their appreciation for FAMU. That’s Reciprocity!

It’s important to understand that while FAMU is a public institution, we are not a state fully-funded institution. We are a state assisted university. Furthermore, the university cannot fund athletic programs. That’s where boosters and alumni have to play a major role.

Now, as president of the FAMU Alumni Association, before I hear reasons why some alumni might not give, I need to ask the same question that I would ask the graduating class during commencement rehearsal: “let me see the hands of anyone that did not receive any help while you were enrolled here.” Seeing no hands, I would say “the help and development that you received while enrolled, that was FAMU. 

If anyone mistreated you while at FAMU, they were misrepresenting FAMU and should not be considered a legitimate representative of FAMU. Credit FAMU for the outstanding development and successful careers that our students experience.

During my tenure as President of the FAMU National  Alumni Association (2010-2015), we proclaimed to have 80,000 living alumni. If 80,000 alumni gave least $100 a year ($8.34 monthly) FAMU would receive $8 million. Tallahassee, we should have more 10,000 graduates in Leon County. Since seven percent of 80,000 is 5,600, then we should be able to match what alumni did last year. If we truly love FAMU, as we profess to, we need to include FAMU in our budget. 

For the last 10 or 15 years, in addition to purchasing season football tickets, I have requested the FAMU Foundation to take funds out of my checking account twice monthly.  In essence, I’m not asking alumni and supporters to do anything that I’m not doing.

Since its inception, FAMU has been here for us in the best of times or the worst of times; in fair weather or dark clouds. In these challenging times, HBCUs and FAMU specifically, need dedicated and extremely strong supportive, generous, and united alumni and boosters. I invite and implore you to join our booster and alumni organizations, and support the University and the Athletics Department.

“Rattlers, let’s be better than 10 percent! Let’s step into the future and create an eternal supportive legacy for FAMU… Together… Forever!”

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