Flake returns to roots as head of Wilberforce

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As a student at Wilberforce University in Ohio, the Rev. Floyd Flake put in 50- to 60-hour work weeks in the cafeteria to put himself through school.

Those work hours have followed him through his career as a congressman, a minister, a school founder and in his latest job assignment as interim president of Wilberforce University, the oldest historically black college in the United States.

Flake, who heads the 15,000-member Allen A.M.E. Church on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, is planning to commute between New York and Wilberforce, Ohio to manage both the church and the school, he said. He will also remain a consultant to the Edison Schools, the nation’s largest commercial operator of public schools.

“Like I need another job,” Flake said with a laugh.

Flake is eager to help out his alma mater and has served on the board of trustees for the past four years, he said. When the current president, John Henderson, told the trustees he was resigning, the board asked Flake to fill in.

“We did not expect it to be such a short term of notice from the president,” Flake said. “The board asked me if I would do it.”

The position is temporary while the board searches for a permanent leader, a process that is expected to take one or two years. Flake has accepted a one-year appointment, beginning Monday.

“I am extremely pleased he has accepted the one-year appointment as president of Wilberforce University,” said John Walker, chairman of the school’s trustee board. “He is a multi-talented, dynamic individual and will bring excitement and hard work to the university.”

Flake said the trustees are hoping that he will draw more attention and more donors to the school. In recent years the school has seen a drop in enrollment that has created a budget deficit of about $1 million, he said.

“They believe I would bring some visibility to the school,” Flake said. “I think it’s going to go pretty well, though. Most people who have the means to help have offered to do so.”

Enrollment is also a priority, he said. The school has about 700 students, down from 850 just a few years ago. One problem is that students from cities see the campus, 50 miles from both Columbus and Cincinnati, and are turned off, Flake said.

“Getting urban kids into a rural setting is difficult,” he said. “The hard sell is just trying to get students to come into that kind of campus setting without all the amenities of the city that they are accustomed to.”

Flake hopes to bolster the campus and college activities to interest the students, he said.

But the co-pastor at Allen A.M.E. Church in Jamaica is leaving his congregation in good hands, Flake said. Although he will travel between Ohio and New York to manage both institutions, he will leave the day-to-day concerns up to his staff of ministers, he said.

“The issue for me is building systems and managing systems,” Flake said. “I’ve built a very strong system. The basic system needs me to manage managers.”

He will contribute to plans for the church’s vision for the next few years, which includes increasing affordable housing in the area, he said.

More than anything, leading Wilberforce is a way for him to say “thank you,” Flake said.

“It’s kind of a commitment on my part to repay in some ways what I am because of them,” Flake said. “It’s because I went to a school which allowed me to work my way through that I’ve been able to do what I have.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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