by Zoie Roberson, Speakin’ Out News Youth Editor; SON photo credits: Greg Miley and Shelly Williams

Mr. William D. Smothers, publisher of Speakin’ Out News, gives Alabama A&M President Dr. Daniel Wims and Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Advancement Dr. Jamal Ali a tour of Speakin’ Out News, founded in 1980 in Decatur. Far left, Smothers shows the first cover issues of Speakin’ Out News when it was in a magazine format.
(LEFT – RIGHT): Zoie D. Roberson, Speakin’ Out News Youth Editor; Dr. Daniel Wims, AAMU President; William D. Smothers, publisher, Speakin’ Out News, and Dr. Jamal Ali, AAMU Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Advancement.
(FAR LEFT) Alabama A&M President Dr. Daniel Wims is in the circulation room with (FAR RIGHT) William D. Smothers, publisher of Speakin’ Out News and (BACKGROUND, FAR RIGHT) Shelly Williams, Speakin’ Out News’ Circulation Coordinator and Photographer.

Alabama A&M University (AAMU) has long stood as a pillar in theNorth Alabama community, making significant contributions to the education and advancement of Black people.As an HBCU, AAMU was founded with the mis-sion to offer educational opportunities to Black people during an era that marked restricted access to education due to segregation and racial discrimination. This historical mission continues to shape the university’s long-standing commitment to serving the Black community–a commitment that extends beyond the boundaries of the institution itself. Like AAMU, Speakin’ Out News plays a dynamic role in theNorth Alabama community, amplifying the voices and stories of minority groups. Hence, it was only fitting for Speakin’ Out News to conduct an interview with alike-minded institution dedicated to serving the Black community. In this discourse, as we dive into an insightful conversation with AAMU President Dr. Daniel Wims andVice President of Market-ing, Communications, andAdvancement Dr. JamalAli, we appreciate their willingness to share their insights and applaud their unyielding dedication and commitment to the betterment of the university and the community at large.

Q [Zoie Roberson, StaffWriter]: Given the recent news release about the state underfunding ofAAMU by more than half a billion dollars in the past thirty years, Roberson asked, “If the state were to compensate the university the funds that it was long deprived of, how would you use it—what would your priori-ties be?”
A [Dr. Daniel Wims, AAMU President]: “Our priority–if indeed there is some redressing–would be infrastructure needs, which would include continuing to enhance our historical buildings, [and] renovative repair. Enhancing infrastructure means pavement, water, HVAC, and our IT infrastructure.Finally, new capital projects–new buildings that have long been needed, residential and instruction,” Wims responded.

Q [William Smothers,Founder and ExecutivePublisher of Speakin’ Out News]: In light of the proliferation of emerging technologies and the continuous progress of the digital era, Smothers questioned, “How are you integrating AI more intoAlabama A&M?”
A [Dr. Daniel Wims]: “Academically, our focus has been science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. So, any new cutting-edge and new academic degree programs or academic focus in any of those STEM areas is something that we would look at and move toward bat least providing our students some semblance of certification or credentialing in that area. So, in our computer science program, we have a concentration in artificial intelligence and cyber security. So, you get a degree in computer science with a concentration in one or the other or both,” Wims replied.

Alabama A&M University intends to offer a degree program in both areas eventually; however, such programs will require significant investments.Even still, the university is “scaling up,” as Wims mentions, and is making efforts to introduce AI and cybersecurity degree pro-grams in the future.

Q [Zoie Roberson]:“Could you elaborate on the challenges the university is currently facing and working to over-come?”
A [Dr. Daniel Wims]: One of the primary challenges AAMU faces is improving and expanding infrastructure. Considering some of the building’s old construction dates, the infrastructure has grown quite limiting. “We are acreage rich and building poor,” Wims stressed. Along with integrating more technology into buildings and creating smart classrooms, “We need new buildings. We need larger buildings,”Wims expressed. In light
of the university’s present “growth mode,” other challenges have presented.

Insufficient square footage has been quite an upheaval to residential life. “We are stacking students on top of students,” said Wims. However, the university intends to offer single occupancy in some small rooms, build new dorms, and seek off campus, apartment-style contracts. “In this growth mode, we are still trying to educate our children,” Wims stated. Only a small percentage of working-age Black people in Alabama have a bachelor’s degree.

With aims to increase the percentage, Wims asserted, “We find that we are the ones that bear the responsibility for that. Of the HBCUs in Alabama, we have 25% of the enrollment–we are the largest by far. This semester, we have record enrollment.” Along with these challenges, Wims added that another is to
help their students: “They are not wealthy. They need help, so we need finances and resources.”

Q [Zoie Robeson]: “What efforts have you made to increase the university’s retention rates?” A [Dr. Daniel Wims]: “Two years ago, we used to have a Retention and Persistence Task Force. We
redirected many resources–federal Title III funds as well as institution funds to increase the number of
advisors. We’ve doubled the number of advisors for freshmen. We’ve hired advisors in each college. We
have created a new administrative level of associate deans.

We’ve bought software packages that will help the advising process and have fully integrated our advisement software packages like degree works and others that will help us in advisement processes in
terms of tracking–making sure students stay on time and in sequence. Most importantly, we have created
an atmosphere in the administration and student affairs that has everyone focused on retention. We
have dedicated to the campus an incentive that ‘if you want to get a raise or bonus, we better see an
uptick in retention.’ After we have finalized our enrollment numbers for this Fall, [we] are looking at a
significant increase in retention,” Wims communicated.

Q [William Smothers]: What initiatives do you have in place for Alumni to come to and give back to AAMU?
A [Dr. Jamal Ali, Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Advancement]: We often engage with the alums.President has a robust calendar of invitations to go out, and he desires to go out and meet with the alums. He enjoys…interacting with the alums. But we’re not just interacting The charge and challenge
is great. So, he usually carries an annual report [of alums] with him. They’re knowledgeable of that, so
the call is to have them increase from the level you were last year and get to that next level. We track
about 32,000 alums tha we have records on. An it’s just over a thousand this year that have made a contribution to the university. We’ve been letting them know that. You love Bulldog Nation–let’s show
it. Emotionalism is always there with Black institutions, but the hard dollars are the challenge. But, this
year at Homecoming, wit the help of our alums, corporate partners, and othe givers, we have a record
level of funds. The challenge of getting our ban to New York for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
was half a million dollars. We’ll retire that debt next week as well. So, we’re creating an army of advocates and people that want to get on board with wher we’re going, and that’s what they’re responding
to,” Ali articulated.

Just recently, AAMU opened its doors to its home games to all Huntsville City Schools students. However, they must be accompanied by a parent/guardian, who will be charged for admission. “We have 10,000 alums
right here in this community,” Wims pointed out. “60% of them are below the age of 60. Well, they’ve got
grandkids. We want you to come, but we want you to bring those kids and grandkids because that’s our next generation.”

Q [William Smothers]: Dr. Wims, can you elaborate on that acreage you mentioned earlier?
A [Dr. Daniel Wims]: Wims reasoned, “I said something about the fact that we were land-rich and building-poor. As you know, with any structure, if you look at your homestead, you claim depreciation on your property. Well, we’ve got a building built in 1950–whoops, depreciation on that building. Now, juxtaposed to the value of land and acreage, in the city of Huntsville–the county of Madison– this is steadily going up.So if we own 2,300 acres, we just bought about 70acres on the backside, so we own the mountain now, behind the campus. We’re land-rich in terms of assets, but in terms of buildings, not so much. That’s what I was alluding to.”

Q&A: “Returning to the topic of AAMU’s state underfunding, Smothers asked Dr. Wims if he would like to make a statement on the issue.
“I can’t,” Wims responded.Given the nature of this topic, Dr. Wims prefers to exercise discretion and postpone his statement to a later date. In lieu of speaking further on this topic, Wims proceeded to congratulate Smothers on the 43rd Anniversary of Speakin’ Out News. “Involvement with the Black press gets our story out, and it does it in a balanced way. That’s the only balance of act that we have, and we understand that if you don’t exist, then it’s the witty whim of the traditional press,” acknowledged Wims.

The conversation withDr. Daniel Wims and Dr.Jamal Ali offers a comprehensive view of AAMU’s commitment to addressing challenges, fostering academic growth, and strengthening its ties with its alums and the greaterHuntsville community. AsAAMU continues its journey toward excellence, it remains a vital institution in its mission to provide quality education and uplift the Black community within and beyond the confines of its campus.The commitment of its leadership and the dedication of its community members bodes well for a future that holds promise, progress, and a positive impact.