Celebrating Dr. Nannie Helen Burroughs

There is so much to love about the month of May including plenty of sunshine, flowers, trips to the park, the end of school, graduations and of course Mother’s Day, a time for us to celebrate God’s gift of mothers. We should also love May, because may is the birth-month of Dr. Nannie Helen Burroughs (May 2) and Dr. Burroughs contributed much toward bringing about the recognition of the power and influence of African American women in all aspects of American life.

Indeed, Dr. Burroughs was a prolific writer, educator, orator, businesswoman, and Christian leader. She was a woman who was ahead of her time — the Oprah Winfrey, Condelleza Rice and Michelle Obama of her day.

As background, Dr. Burroughs was born in 1879 in Orange, VA and Burroughs’ mother brought her to Washington, DC to further her education. She graduated in 1896 from DC’s Dunbar high school with honors and wanted to become a science teacher. However, she was denied a teaching job because of the darkness of her skin in a city — that at the time, favored light-skinned teachers.

Burroughs instead took a job in Louisville, Kentucky as a secretary for the National Baptist Convention, and while working with the convention at their annual meeting in 1900, she advocated for the right of women to participate equally in the ministry in a speech entitled, “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping.” This speech was particularly insightful, because even to this day, 113 years later, African American women still struggle for equality to participate in the leadership of the church. As a result of Dr. Burroughs’ speech, Women’s Day and a woman’s division of the National Baptist Convention were established.

Upon leaving Kentucky, Dr. Burroughs came back to Washington, DC and founded a school for young women that combined qualitative vocational training with traditional Christian values. The school, The National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls, Inc., opened its doors on October 18, 1909, with Ms. Burroughs as President. The school’s motto was “We specialize in the wholly impossible,” and sought “the highest development of Christian womanhood,” through a curriculum designed to emphasize practical and professional skills. To help finance the school Dr. Burroughs created “The Worker” magazine, a publication which is still in operation today.

Dr. Burroughs also advised President Herbert Hoover and received an honorary Dr. of Laws degree from Shaw University. She passed away on May 20, 1961. However, the school, renamed in her honor, continued on and became a private co-educational Christian elementary school, training children to the glory of God in the tradition of Dr. Burroughs.

Unfortunately, today, Dr. Burroughs’ legacy stands in jeopardy. Due to tough economic times, last year, the school was forced to close. The good news is that the Progressive National Baptist Convention and several churches have stepped-up to the plate and have been working to retire the school’s outstanding debts with the goal of re-opening the school in the future. However, we could also use your help, and if you’d like to make a contribution to help secure the future of the Nannie Helen Burroughs School, then please contact the Progressive National Baptist Convention Headquarters at 202-396-0558.

This month, as we reflect upon our mothers and celebrate the educational efforts of our young people, let us also remember Dr. Nannie Helen Burroughs, a woman upon whose shoulders we all stand!

Peace and Blessings,
Pastor Kip Banks, Sr.

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