By Scott Halasz
WILBERFORCE — Dr. Herman J. Felton Jr., remembers the sage-like advice he was given by Livingstone College president Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins years ago.
“As a black man, that was the first time a black man looked me in the eye and said you can do whatever you want to do,” Felton said.
Standing in front of Wilberforce University faculty and staff Wednesday, Felton proved that to be true as he was introduced as the 21st president of the country’s oldest private, historically black university. Felton, who was the senior vice-president, COO and vice-president of institutional advancement at Livingstone in North Carolina, replaces Dr. Algeania Warren Freeman, who announced her retirement earlier this month.
A self-proclaimed man of few words, he is ready to employ life lessons learned from being an impoverished youth and serving as a Marine to lead Wilberforce, which is celebrating its 160th year.
“I’m not much on words,” said Felton, who signed his contract with Wilberforce July 16. “I like to work.”
There is plenty to do for Felton, who will oversee an institution that just a year ago was fighting to keep its accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. Led by Freeman, the university was removed from show-cause status by the HLC and is now fully accredited. But Wilberforce still must show the HLC its maintaining its trajectory with future benchmarks.
Felton, 44, is ready.
“Not afraid,” he said. Work is work. I’m a Marine.”
That’s the mentality he will take as he begins his tenure.
“Boots on the ground,” Felton said. “My first goal is to get a clear vision of what we are. I just really want to see what’s going on on the ground. Get in and see where we’re at. Keep things going. Build on the success of Dr. Freeman.”
It was the success of Freeman that attracted Felton to Wilberforce.
“It was a lot more appealing given the work that Dr. Freeman did and the board,” Felton said, adding that the vision of board chair Mark Wilson was “something that I could get behind.”
And now he is ready to look ahead.
“I’m really looking forward to working with you all,” Felton said. “I really have absolutely nothing else to say.”
He’s hoping his work speaks for itself.