CGI Merchant Group, LLC (CGI), a minority-owned global investment management firm focusing on private equity and real estate, is making a $30 million investment in the historic Morris Brown College.
This new venture will support the more than one-hundred-year-old Historically Black College and University (HBCU) as it works to achieve its national accreditation and will fund the conversion of existing facilities into a 150-key upscale hotel and hospitality management training complex. Construction on the 90,000-square-foot state-of-the-art location is expected to begin later this year. Hilton, the global hospitality leader, will also play a prominent role, managing the hotel under its Tapestry Collection, spearheading curriculum development and offering internship and post-graduation career opportunities for Morris Brown’s students.
Founded in 1881, Morris Brown has been a long-time advocate for the Black community, as the first college in Georgia owned and operated by African Americans. Over its long history, the college has produced notable alumni, including Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Alan McPherson, the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That legacy continues with this partnership, making it the only HBCU in the nation with a flagged hotel and hospitality management training program directly on its campus.
“Many industries are pushing for diversity and inclusion, and the hospitality sector is no different. CGI hopes this partnership will serve as a catalyst for change and encourage others to support important institutions like Morris Brown,” said CGI Senior Managing Director, Euclid Walker. “We are excited to be at the tip of the spear in our industry and grateful we found partners who share that vision.”
While Black employment in hospitality is nearly 19 percent, the demographic is severely underrepresented in the industry’s leadership roles, holding merely 1.5% of executive positions according to a 2020 report. An alumni and board member of the neighboring HBCU, Morehouse College, Walker helped conceptualize this project with the goal of making Morris Brown’s hospitality program one of the top in the country and diversifying the sector it serves.
“The leadership qualities and sense of purpose I gained from attending an HBCU made me aware of the importance these institutions have in creating opportunities for people of all colors and creeds,” said Walker. “It is a privilege to unite the investment world I work in with my own personal goals to meaningfully and measurably impact others.”
For Dr. Kevin James, president of Morris Brown College, CGI’s investment is also the latest milestone in his mission to re-establish the school as one of the region’s leading academic institutions. Other recent notable accomplishments include getting the college’s reaccreditation application approved in November 2020, an objective Morris Brown sought to achieve for nearly two decades. Following a successful onsite evaluation from its accreditor in January 2021, Morris Brown is on track to have the rights of a fully accredited college in April 2021, allowing the institution to apply for students to receive federal financial aid and recognition for their degrees.
“As our youth look for a future beyond the pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted the employment rates for people of color, HBCUs like Morris Brown are more important to their success than ever,” said James. “With the support of CGI and other likeminded partners, we are providing the next generation with one-of-a-kind professional avenues, such as this hospitality program.”
In addition to the creation of the hotel and training complex, CGI has committed to the establishment of an endowment to support several initiatives, including financial aid to students, future expansion goals, and assisting minority and women-owned businesses in the surrounding community.
Founded by formerly enslaved religious leaders with the goal of inspiring others to better themselves and the world, it is only fitting that over a century later, that philosophy lives on through individuals and organizations, like Dr. Kevin James and CGI Merchant Group, who have come together with the same commitment to progress and diversity Morris Brown’s founders had.