Chancellor Conway Delivers Keynote Address at Community Service Awards
Chancellor Thomas Conway was the keynote speaker at the 9th annual Witherspoon-Harris Community Service Recognition Award.
Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Thomas Conway was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Witherspoon-Harris Community Service Recognition Award Wednesday, Nov. 15, and while the evening’s honoree was Elizabeth City native Julie Robinson, he took the podium first, to celebrate the history and significance of ECSU.
“If we (ECSU) hold hands with the community, what we can do has yet to be seen,” Chancellor Conway told a packed room at Montero’s Restaurant.
Each year for the past nine years, the Community Service Recognition Award honors individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve their community. This year, Robinson was recognized for her work with La Casa, an organization dedicated to assisting with the education of children in the Latino community, members of what speakers noted is a diverse Elizabeth City community.
Diversity, the history of ECSU, and its relevance today were the themes on which Chancellor Conway touched during his speech. He stressed that to understand ECSU, you have to first look at the context in which the university was founded in 1891.
In the post-Civil War South, the African American community was, he said, under siege. The economic gains seen by the rest of the country were being denied to African Americans. But in North Carolina, there was a progressive move to educate the African American community as teachers, therefore starting a cycle of education which continues to this day, he said.
“Educate the colored citizens of Northeast North Carolina to integrate them into the economy to allow the state to grow,” said Chancellor Conway. “That’s a very important concept.”
And today, that mission, to provide a higher education to the underserved population of the region lives on, and is at the heart of ECSU, he said.
Chancellor Conway observed that in order to move the university forward, unity and community support is necessary.
“The challenges we face are bigger than any single person,” he said. “We need to come together.”
Chancellor Conway also stated that it is important to understand the nature of the HBCU is about diversity. That schools such as ECSU provide a place for those who might not otherwise find economic liberation through education have a chance.
And while the mission of educating the underserved has not changed, it is important to understand, he said, that ECSU represents true diversity in the community, and among institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina.
Chancellor Conway said among the state’s public universities, ECSU can be proud that it has achieved a higher level of diversity than any other school.
“We are a very diverse institution,” he said. “What does that say about ECSU? The mission didn’t change. We are here to educate Northeast North Carolina. We accept that mission and move forward with that mission.”
But to fulfill that mission, it takes an entire community. Chancellor Conway observed that Elizabeth City is a college town, with three campuses, all equally responsible for the education of the people of this region. That, he said, deserves community support.
“And what if we start to look at Elizabeth City for the college town that it is?”
The results, he said, would mean positive growth for everyone.
“We don’t want to return ECSU to a period of bygone glory,” he said. “We want a bold future.”