Res, non verba.
The Latin phrase translates to "deeds, not words," the motto of Fayetteville State University. It's a phrase Kimberly Jeffries Leonard repeated frequently Thursday afternoon in front of university officials, faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters of the institution.
"We have a great responsibility," the FSU alumna of 1986 said to the crowd inside Seabrook Auditorium. "Our founders are our legacy, and what happens to that legacy resides with us."
Leonard was the university's keynote speaker during its "150th Founders Day Convocation" celebration. FSU is in the midst of celebrating its sesquicentennial, which will continue through the next academic year.
The convocation came ahead of the school's anticipated fall celebration of Nov. 29, which is recognized as the official date of the university's beginning. The university's heralded seven founders — David A. Bryant, Nelson Carter, Andrew J. Chesnutt, George Grange Sr., Matthew Leary Jr., Thomas Lomax and Robert Simmons — paid $136 for two lots on Gillespie Street for the school. They named themselves as the board of trustees to maintain the property.
Chancellor James Anderson told students and alumni they were able to attend the university because of the founders' vision.
"We're talking about seven individuals coming together during a period of history of incredible duress and yet, they found the wherewithal to look into the future and see what could be," he said. "That's why you're here. That's why I'm here."
During her speech, Leonard recalled visiting the school as a child. She remembered the students were tall. Her mother, Marye Jeffries, worked at the university for 25 years. She was the former associate vice chancellor of Academic Affairs and director of summer school before retiring.
Now, Leonard serves as president and CEO of Envision Consulting LLC and is the national vice president of The Links Inc., an international organization of professional women of color committed to volunteer service.
Leonard told the audience Fayetteville State is not a "school of choice." In February, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos categorized historically black colleges and universities, commonly known as HBCUs, as pioneers of "school choice," not mentioning many were formed during the height of racial segregation that spanned decades.
"There are people in high places who think HBCUs are here as a choice and look at our founders as pioneers of school of choice," Leonard said. "What we know, however, (our founders) were pioneers of making a way when there was no way. And with the way, comes opportunity and there in lies hope."
The school’s name changed over time from the Howard School to the State Colored Normal School, to Fayetteville State Teachers College in 1939 and finally, to its current name in 1969. As the name changed, the university grew. It expanded from two lots of land to 38 buildings on 156 acres and enrolling more than 6,200 students last year. Leonard noted the institution continues to be a top producer of teachers in the state and offers degrees at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels.
"It is not by coincidence that our motto is a call to action," she said. "What's our job? It's our call to action. Identify that which will ensure the continuity, the sustainability and the viability of our great institution. On the celebration of our 150th year, I say simply: res, non verba."
Staff writer Alicia Banks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-2728.