Tougaloo College 2024 Baccalaureate Service – Historic Woodworth Chapel filled to capacity with achievement, sacrifice, and love

Graduates gather for group photo following Baccalaureate Service.

By Christopher Young,
Contributing Writer,

Baccalaureate Service Speaker Rev. Dr. Cornell William Brooks

May 5, 2024, finally arrived – making the graduation even sweeter for the vast majority of the graduating class of roughly 130 students who had missed their High School graduation ceremony due to COVID. Among the many creative and expressive caps, one was emblazoned with the words – MY DESTINY WAS DELAYED BUT NEVER DENIED. Somehow, at Tougaloo, on the hallowed ground of Woodworth Chapel, with luminaries, trustees, alumni, friends and supporters filling the pews and overflow room at 8 a.m. Sunday morning for the Baccelaureate Service – all was well, and those words had profound significance.
The music throughout the service was, you already know, divine. After the Call to Worship – Matthew 22:37-40 – by Senior Class President London Lyle, the opening hymn was To God Be the Glory, with subsequent selections of We Need You Lord (soloists DeVontee Phillips and Bryce Winn) and Great Day (soloist Reginald Washington), before the closing hymn, Standing on the Promises. The voices of the concert choir, the majesty of the instrumental ensemble including strings – under the direction of Director Johnny Hubbard and Pianist Angela Montgomery, Ph.D., was deeply moving.
Tougaloo Chaplain, Dr. Larry Johnson, led the Call to Prayer – Psalm 63, prior to the Presentation of the Speaker. Reverend Dr. Alvin O’Neal, Tougaloo College Trustee Emeritus and retired senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church on Manhattan’s Upper East Side introduced the Baccalaureate sermon speaker Reverend Dr. Cornell William Brooks. Dr. Brooks is the Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations and Professor of Public Leadership and Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School.
He is also director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the School’s Center for Public Leadership and Visiting Professor of the Practice of Prophetic Religion and Public Leadership at Harvard Divinity School. Brooks is the former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights attorney, and a fourth-generation ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Blaise Adams (Student Government president) and London “Lindsey” Lyle (Senior Class president)

There were just a few good-natured groans when it was announced that Dr. Brooks began his formal education at Thee I Love. In addition to his B.A. in political science with honors, he holds a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School.
After beginning thanking those in attendance and encouraging students to do likewise for the many kindnesses and supports that brought them to this day, he took a moment of personal privilege to extend appreciation to his mentor, his former professor, and retired Tougaloo professor Charles H. Holmes, J.D., who was in attendance.
“There are a great many people practicing law today who might not be practicing law today were it not for Charles Holmes.”
His theme for the event: The Blackness of Inexcusable Excellence. “All across the country in the wake of a Supreme Court decision…a single legal decision that held unconstitutional affirmative action. This decision has unleashed a torrent of doubt and criticism and skepticism with respect to the intellectual capability of Black students. This legal decision has rendered a moral verdict by those who never believed in the policy in the first place. All across this country we have people who ban books…all across this country people have held their skepticism, their animosity, their doubts with respect to black people at bay. But in the wake of this decision, they have come out in full force questioning who we are, what we are capable of, and how far we can run…there are times when who you are irritates other people because of how gifted you are. He shared the Denzel Washington quote – Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”

L-R: Dr Brooks mentor and professor Charles Henry Holmes, Dr. Cornell William Brooks, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother James Bryant.

“You spent four years at Tougaloo College, you have been mentored and instructed and inspired and nurtured by some of the brightest minds in the country. There is a tendency to under appreciate, to discount, to underplay the intellectual abilities, capabilities, and the repository of wisdom found at each HBCU. I’m a graduate of Jackson State University, Boston University, Yale Law School where I made the law review, I teach at Harvard University. There is no place I have ever gone, no place I have ever studied, where the professors were brighter, smarter, more dedicated, more sacrificial than at places like Jackson State and Tougaloo College. Remember the spirit that has been sewn into you.” Brooks received thunderous applause throughout his fiery and inspiring presentation.
Tougaloo President Dr. Donzell Lee presented gifts to Dr. Brooks as a token of appreciation, including a framed print entitled, “Charles McLaurin leading first meeting at Williams Chapel, Ruleville, MS. 1964” by renowned illustrator Tracy Sugerman.
After a Student Leaders Presentation by Blaise Adams, Student Government Association President and London Lyle, Senior Class President, Chaplain Johnson led the graduating class in a Litany of Consecration. 2024 also marks the 60th anniversary of the partnership with Brown University – one of the eight Ivy League schools. Tougaloo College – “Where History Meets the Future.”

Decorative caps: 2024 Graduate Faith Hinton


2024 Graduate Ranaih Braclet.


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