Stewarding a Multiethnic Campus

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra | March 8, 2017

It is hard to get whiter than Campus Outreach was in the late 1970s.

The interdenominational campus ministry originated in Birmingham, dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States” in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Campus Outreach was started by the predominately white Briarwood Presbyterian Church on the campus of Samford University, a Baptist affiliate that resisted integration until the American Bar Association pressured Samford’s Cumberland School of Law to admit the university’s first black student in 1967. The rest of the university followed; however, in a city nearly three-quarters African American, the school is still more than 80 percent white.

So it’s no wonder that in the beginning, Campus Outreach ministered primarily to white students.

But within the last decade, the ministry has undergone a remarkable change. The Campus Outreach franchise in the Dallas/Fort Worth area is about half black. So is ministry at the University of Memphis. And across the 87 American campuses, the share of black students has reached 13 percent, which matches the overall percentage of black students at schools where Campus Outreach is working.

Moving to a multiethnic Campus Outreach hasn’t been an easy process…

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