DeRay Cole delivering keynote at Laurinburg Institute's 2017 Alumni GatheringFor most of my life, education has been a common thread. This month I had the honor to be the Keynote speaker at the Laurinburg Institute's Sixth Annual Alumni Reunion Weekend banquet. The Laurinburg Institute is the oldest African American prep school in the nation, starting in 1904. It is a private, non-sectarian preparatory school offering residential education for grades 9-12. Started by Emmanuel Monty and Tinny McDuffie on only a small piece of swamp land, it has endured for more than a century. They had a dream of providing quality education and guidance for black children. What a dream. Alumni include Dizzy Gillespie, hip hop artist Joe Budden, and a slew of basketball greats.

Despite its history, it is facing existential challenges in funding, focus and leadership. Those difficulties notwithstanding, the alumni attending the dinner show that along with a new board, the turnaround has begun. The stakes are high. Frank 'Bishop' McDuffie pointed out from the podium how the closing of black schools has had a devastating impact on the education of black people. In my life, it has been been education that has provided the pathway to opportunity. This is even more true now in a technological age where education provides the specialized skills needed for a 21st Century job. I went to college in Arkansas by Greyhound bus. Others arrived in the back of pickup trucks. Many came without a penny to their name, the children of sharecroppers. We were welcomed. The lives of my fellow students were transformed. Two generations later, in North Carolina, we have gates of welcome in need of repair at Laurinburg so that this generation can be set on the same path of transformation.

Perhaps we can look to a biblical story for inspiration - that of Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king, who also had gates to repair. Like him, servant leaders will be needed in the reconstruction of Laurinburg Institute and in its journey back to full vitality. He urged his people to unite and with that, was able to turn around the repairs needed. He had a clear vision that resulted in a distraction-free outcome. He would not come down from the wall for meetings and managed the limited food and resources they had for the workers on the wall.

Dr Phifer and her team at Laurinburg have done a similar account of reconstruction as Nehemiah. Instead of gates and a wall, they have dormitories, a cafetaria, administration area and classrooms, the student union and library, the gymnasium and tennis courts and the grounds to repair.

And to the alumni, the school needs you to arm yourselves with the knowledge of what's going on at the Institute; to guard yourself against rumours and negativity; to protect the assets of the school, including its intellectual assets; and to give generously of your time, effort and money.

The Institute needs you to stay on the walls and keep rebuilding. With this support and the leadership of Dr Phifer, an education can be provided to another generation. Just one area for example, is in providing in-demand drone pilots through technical prep academies, including the IT skills needed. With support and this leadership, the Laurinburg Institute could endure another 100 years and have an even richer legacy.