ALMA, Mich. - Alma college is changing up the way they do things -- with a new initiative and it's aimed at helping African American students adjust to life on campus. The new initiative is called the 'Julius Chatman living learning community' and is named after their first African American student. It strives to give black and brown students a place, inside the college, to embrace their culture and community.
Julius Chatman arrived at Alma College in the early 1920's, him being the only person of color there at the time, presented quite a few challenges.
"He was originally told that his records were all burned.. they had a fire at the college supposedly, in the record room, and it happened to be just his records that got burned," Julia Price, first daughter to Julius Chatman said.
That's what the school told Julius Chatman back in 1927. He was their first African American student. Chatman went to Alma College for academics and football, straight from the city of Detroit. Chatman lead Alma to numerous championship games as he worked towards his degree, but was stopped in his tracks . Now Alma College is correcting that mistake.
"I think his experience, as his family relayed to me, is that he didn't feel welcomed.. as welcomed as we would want all of our students to feel today," Jeff Abeernathy, President of Alma College said.
Damon Brown, the Vice President of student affairs; Chief diversity officer at Alma College says the school needed a new approach. "Making sure that our students of today understand the past, but also we're celebrating the experience that Julius had here and putting steps in place to make sure that doesn't happen again," Brown said.
Alma College honoring Chatman with his long deserved doctorates degree and putting the Living Learning Community into place, allowing for 18 African American and students of color to live together in a dedicated space.
"It brings students a place to be in a community with students who hare similar experiences and similar backgrounds and also students who are looking to connect with each other. We know that students of color who attend predominantly white institutions sometimes those connection points are challenging," Brown said.
Students apart of this community aren't tucked away from the rest of the campus, but instead, have the opportunity to make friendships -- Julia Price, the first daughter of Julius Chatman, says this was an important part of her father's struggle.
"He said it was very hard, because he didn't have anyone experience his feelings with and tell them what he was going through," Price said.
Chatman's family are overjoyed with the positivity that came out of a struggle so long ago.
"It's amazing to say the least.. seeing the legacy that he put forth is amazing and it's good to see that after a 100 years he's getting his recognitions.. and rightfully so," Hank Morris, the Grandson of Julius Chatman said.
Alma college has a growing minority population --with about 5 percent of their population being African American, and roughly 14 percent coming from a diverse background.
The Living Learning Community program is for first year students, before moving on to a secondary program aimed to make sure they graduate. Julius Chatman is also being honored at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Downtown Detroit.