We’re back for another President’s Corner! This week, HBCU Buzz founder and CEO Luke Lawal Jr. interviewed Vann Newkirk, president of Fisk University. During the conversation, which you can find on the HBCU Buzz YouTube page, Newkirk discussed his unique background, the challenges and benefits of Fisk being located in the heart of Nashville, having the Social Justice Institute as his passion project, and more! Learn more about key takeaways and watch the full interview below!

You’ll quickly find out that Vann Newkirk is well-prepared for his role at Fisk in unexpected ways. “I’m a historian and I’m an HBCU graduate. I’ve been to 3 HBCUs… Barber-Scotia College, North Carolina A&T, and Howard University. And four I went to North Carolina Central also. So these are some of the institutions I went to so I’m an advocate and all of my family has been HBCU grads, so we’re tied into those institutions.”

As soon as he said that, Luke asked the burning question I’m sure we all want to know with family dynamics like Newkirk’s: “What is it like having ties into multiple HBCUs? Like what do you rep? What is the dinner table like, and what do you guys talk about?”

“Well what we don’t talk about is Morehouse,” joked Newkirk. I had a son that went to Morehouse. We talk about those institutions that I had some affinity for so we talk about the Howards, the A&Ts and the Barber-Scotia that gave my family their start in 1867.”

Even with his background at other HBCUs, Vann Newkirk seems to be just the perfect fit for Fisk University. In fact, it was just yesterday that he was confirmed to go from being Fisk’s interim president to the 17th president at Fisk. He knows Fisk’s history like the back of his hand, as a former Provost and and now former interim president.

Fisk University has a place in larger discussions about social justice. Yet with this conversation, we learned the true magnitude of Fisk’s cultivation of activists and their respective roles in civil rights movements and beyond.

“Something that was really important to us is when we founded our Social Justice Institute,” Newkirk said. “You might not know this but Fisk has been a pioneer when we’re talking about race relations. All the leaders that came out of the institution: W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Wells, Hope Franklin, all of those came out of the institution. Nikki Giovanni… What’s going on now is we’re looking at things like prison reform… North Nashville, which has the highest murder rate in the nation, So the Social Justice Instiute is working to get those things addressed.”

Academically, Fisk has been very ambitious in ensuring it has diverse offerings. In fact, the university has the only homeland security program in the state of Tennessee.

“What we’re doing is we have a branch campus in Clarksville, and so we’re targeting veterans and getting those veterans to go into homeland security because we fill it’s important that when we want to guard our borders that we have people who are minorities that have some understanding of empathy. We want to make sure that we train those officers and we’re doing it. We’re training people for TSA for homeland security…”

Watch the full interview for more of Newkirk’s takes on COVID-19, the future of Fisk, and what Newkirk wants his legacy to be at Fisk!