In his anthology of letters to his college-aged pen pal, Letters to a Young Doubter, William Sloane Coffin writes that life's most important question is not what you are but, rather, "Who tells you who you are?" While one has a lifetime to answer this question, it is crucial to start answering now.
The gravity of this question hinges on this: We are only as strong as that which tells us who we are. If our world will have ethical leaders with the moral imagination, creative courage, intellectual confidence and spiritual vigor to meet the challenges of our day, we must have sites of hope where emerging leaders covenant together to explore who they are.
Established in September 2019, Houghton College Buffalo: East Side is a two-year associate degree-granting program focused on the rich tradition of African-American moral and intellectual engagement. Here, we train ethical leaders who are globally minded and locally connected.
As in many U.S. cities, stark and storied racial segregation divides the city of Buffalo. Buffalo’s East Side is a haven of communities and culture predominantly occupied by Black people. Our campus is housed in the historic Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Urban Life Center. The site is a recognized bastion of education and advocacy on the East Side.
Our work reflects the needs of our community. All but one East Side student identifies as a person of color. Our youngest student is seventeen; our oldest is sixty-two. We serve as a point of access to education by offering an affordable, high-quality academic program complete with essential incentives like laptop computers, monthly bus passes and course books for all registered students.
East Side students are a cadre of emerging leaders with the ethical vision and spiritual audacity to believe that education and faith are tools for hewing our collective destinies.
They are writers, singers, waitresses, debaters, Christians, skeptics, mothers, Muslims, fathers, grandmothers, wrestlers, professionals, people who graduated high school at the top of their class, people who graduated high school last month and people who graduated thirty years ago. All were chosen—chosen by Houghton but, more importantly, chosen by God and gripped by history for this moment. East Side students do not surrender their minds, their power, their freedom or their potential to the world as it is. They come together each day to join God in imagining and creating the world as it could be.
An ordained Baptist clergyman, Julian Cook serves as the Director of the Houghton College East Side program in Buffalo, NY, and is Senior Pastor of Buffalo’s historic Macedonia Baptist Church.