Hopkinsville, KY – A small college in Hopkinsville that dates back more than 120 years has transformed itself from a trade school for African Americans to a source for those in the region seeking a biblical education. Carrie Pond has more.
Two church districts founded the Hopkinsville Male and Female College, or M & F for short, in 1883. College President Reverend M.O. Fort says for many years the college served as a trade school, and was one of the few outlets for Christian County African Americans pursuing post-secondary education. The M & F rechristened itself the Hopkinsville College of the Bible (or HCB) in 1965, hoping to officially focus the school's mission toward a higher calling.
"We started teaching students in the area of Christian education, to where if they wanted to take up a vocation in ministry or ministerial work, the school tried to offer students those opportunities."
Despite its small enrollment right now just 56 students the HCB offers three accredited degrees, including a Bachelor of Biblical Studies. Fort says the school is the place in the region to obtain such a degree the next closest bible college is in Nashville.
"A lot of the ministers and pastors in the area are bivocational, and it's a burden on them to have a desire to want to go back to school, but not be able to afford to leave the area to get an education to come back."
Fort came to the college in the late 80s as a student, moving up the administrative ladder from janitor to treasurer then instructor, finally taking the helm as president in 2006. The position is technically part-time Fort also pastors a local church but he says he devotes a lot of time and energy to the school.
"It's almost like when I get up, I'm wondering what next needs to be done at the school. My wife sometimes has to give up time. I have to split time between the school, the church and at home."
The instructors share Fort's passion for the small bible college. Many of the teachers head local congregations or are retired, giving their time at the HCB because of their passion for teaching.
"Nobody's here for money, nobody's here to make a living. Amen. I think everybody's here out of the goodness to help. Amen, that's right. There's no way you could live (no, you can't) so there is true dedication."
Reverend Robert Jones teaches many of the school's biblical studies courses. Jones encourages members of his congregation to attend HCB to become more educated in the scripture. He says many students have never attended college before, which causes some initial hesitance.
"Many of our students are of that age bracket of 40,50, sometimes 60 years old. And they will say, "Gosh I can't learn; I'm too old!" And I try to say to them, "No, you're not. You can learn.""
Jones is obviously passionate about teaching he gives students rides to and from classes to ensure they can attend. Fellow instructor Regina Parham, who teaches English grammar and composition classes at HCB, says because of students' passion and teachers like Jones, the school rarely has problems with attendance. She worked in the Fort Campbell Public school system for years, and upon retiring decided to take a couple classes at the bible college. That turned into her present teaching gig, which she finds incredibly fulfilling.
"You know I had been in secular education so many years of my life. And this was such a good change. It's like a family, like one big family."
Larry Cowell is a student in this close-knit group. Now retired from the army, Cowell is taking technology and missionary classes through assistance from the Veteran's Administration. He never attended college before HCB, but the small environment has allowed him to learn more about computers than he'd ever imagined. A deacon at his church, Cowell also appreciates the school's focus on missionary work.
" Cause you find yourself witnessing no matter where you might be. I might be witnessing to you in a minute here. (laughter, me: and you have the proper training to do that, right?) Yeah, you've gotta be prepared."
President M.O Fort says the school is hoping to expand its efforts to prepare young pastors. He foresees a day very soon when being the college's president will be a full-time job.
"And I'm looking forward to that day for someone to take on that responsibility. So I'm enjoying the opportunity right now and I'm going to do all that I can to keep the school moving forward."
With talks of increased course offerings and a facility expansion, the school that holds its roots as an African American trade school shows promise of becoming an institution for those of all races whoever, as Fort says, is looking to take a "venture of faith."