A letter from Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune


Bethune-Cookman University Associate Provost Claudette McFadden wrote and read a letter to B-CU President Dr. Edison Jackson in Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s voice…as though she had penned it to the new president herself. This letter was read during a kick-off event for Dr. Jackson’s week of installation activities.

My Dear Dr. Jackson,
I have watched you from afar. I have seen you enter your office early in the morning…before anyone else is there, close the door and immediately go into prayer. I have heard your prayers for the school I founded. I listen as you continuously ask God to guide you and direct your path. I have also welcomed you as you have spent a bit of time in meditation at my gravesite.

Over these last 58 years, God and I have often spoken of the work He blessed me to do as the founder of Bethune-Cookman.  We have also spoken of the unfulfilled dreams…dreams I had when in 1955 He called me from my earthly home to be with Him in Paradise. You should know that I prayed for one that would arrive uniquely prepared for the work that God and I have talked about being done at the school that I started with just one dollar and fifty cents.

Promises kept
God is a keeper of every promise He has ever made. And so I knew that, in His time, He would send another…one who knew Him well. One whose sustenance comes from the Father and whose relationship with Him shines brightly and explains the magnetic appeal he would have with all manner of people.  One who is unashamed to openly and proudly declare that he is a Child of God.

I knew you were on the way and was so pleased when you stepped off the elevator in the Performing Arts Center rotunda on the morning of May 13, 2011. I remember that day so clearly because as I sat looking, I felt God’s hand tenderly touch my arm as He looked into my eyes and uttered just three words. It is done!

As you conversed with faculty, staff and members of the community and even as you penned a number of documents, my eyes and ears have been your constant companion.  I recall vividly when you uttered the words from Micah 6:8. “To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

I was pleased to see these words at the top of the agenda of your very first cabinet meeting. Your expectations were crystal clear when you created a prayer rotation so that every cabinet meeting was opened in prayer by a different member of your cabinet.

Prayers answered
Dr. Jackson, I have been blessed beyond measure by having two of my major prayers answered exceedingly and abundantly above all else I could ask or imagine. Founding Bethune-Cookman was my first big answered prayer to the dream that I had many years ago.  You are another answered prayer.

It has been my prayer that the institution that I left behind would emerge as one that is unquestionably and undeniably progressive, innovative, and groundbreaking in ways that are above anything that those who have gone, those who are with you now, and those yet to come could have ever imagined.

Game changer
In recent years, I’ve overheard people used the expression, “game changer.” My sense is that this expression can easily be applied to you and your vision.

I so like that you see the importance of traditions and that reclaiming certain traditions is a priceless gift that we can give to today’s students, faculty, and staff.

I must tell you that my eyes watered the day that the old prayer was placed on the wall of the dining hall (not cafeteria). They are no less true today. “Christ is the center of our home. A guest at every meal. A silent listener to every conversation.”

A unified force
As I draw this letter to a close, there is one prayer that I must share with you, Dr. Jackson, Mrs. Jackson, and every faculty and staff member within the sound of my voice. Above all, I pray that we never forget the power of a unified force. I listen from afar at what people say about me and the tributes they pay me.

I am grateful but the truth of the matter is that none of us do anything that impacts the lives of generations…alone. The things that I am credited with called for unity.

My teachers and my staff believed because they had faith!  If they had not the faith of a mustard seed, we would have failed for nothing is possible without it. At the end of the day, it matters little what else you do, if what is done does not reflect an understanding of the power of unity.

In the absence of unity and a single purpose, the inevitable can be summed up using the title of African author, Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart.

Amazing victories
Unity is still called for today…perhaps more now than ever before. Continue to encourage each member of your faculty and each staff person to work in faith…believing mightily in things hoped for but not yet seen. When people work together in Unity amazing victories are possible and everyday people will be blessed to do extraordinary things.

You have such a wonderful faculty. Theirs is also a faith walk because they have to believe that what they do will make a difference. Each time they stand in front of our students, stay late at night, mentor, tutor, buy a meal or pay for a prescription for a student with little or no resources…each time they chastise, admonish or write on a returned paper the words, “You can do so much better” or “Study harder,” they are saying the unseen is far greater than the seen.

Gifts of the spirit
Mrs. Jackson, I cannot leave you out. Congratulations to you and Dr. Jackson on your fiftieth wedding anniversary and thank you for being a magnificent help meet.

For God has shown me that in you are the gifts of the spirit…, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  In you is a quiet strength and a mighty resilience. I have seen God look upon you and there is always such a sweet smile on His face and a special twinkle in His eyes. Thank you, my Dear.

You are home now
Finally, Dr. Jackson, I think you know it already but I want to say the words to you myself, “You are home now.” And that while you have served three other institutions with honor and great distinction, it is at Bethune-Cookman, an institution founded on faith in the God you serve,  that you have come home at last.

It is with us that you are most who you have always been…a man of God who happens to be an exceptional university president. And so, Mr. President, I want you to know that I am at peace.

The next time you walk over to sit a while, pray or mediate about Bethune-Cookman, know this — It is well with my soul.

Yours in Faith,
Mary McLeod Bethune
Claudette McFadden is associate provost at Bethune-Cookman University. She can be reached at mcfaddenc@cookman.edu.



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