This will be fast.
Kelly Price is a powerhouse singer. Today, black Twitter announced that Kelly Price had graduated valedictorian with an honorary doctorate in philosophy.
If you know anything about black Twitter you can imagine what ensued. It was jokes, comedy and shade.
I was late because of the j-o-b. But here’s how my read of the announcement went when I did see it.*
There was no school listed in the first story but pictures of Price in regalia. Graduations don’t happen in most traditional schools in February. My first scan was for signs of the for-profits I know that offer PhDs – Capella, University of Phoenix and Walden especially.
Nope, the logo and regalia didn’t match those.
My next assumption was that it was an unaccredited bible or religious school.
I was close. Another link someone sent me finally confirmed the school as Global ODS University. [Edit to add: literally in the 20 minutes I was typing this the domain went down.] [Edit to add: domain registered is down but www.godsu.org is still live.]
Global ODS (or “God’s U”) isn’t exactly a bible school as I imagined either. It’s an old-fashioned diploma mill or a business that exchanges fees for credentials. In this case, the “applicant” provides two references, a resume and a fee.
I noted on Twitter that all of the administrators listed on the website are connected to various multi-level marketing businesses. These MLM businesses have a black religiosity twist. They market to black believers using the narrative of being overcomers in the vision of Christ. It’s a theme tightly bound with black prosperity gospel narratives (a strain of prosperity gospel writ large).
The hook is as old as time. Only the marketing is new age.
People like these administrators leverage the black religious belief in overcoming and the greater society’s education gospel, or the belief that credentials can insure against poverty and low status. They use the networking principle of MLM, where you leverage weak ties to sell shady, risky products that they package as “entrepreneurship”. The entrepreneurialism bit sounds in keeping with the greater cultural narrative of being a CEO of Me, Inc. Only MLM promises to minimize the risk of being your own boss by giving you a team, a leadership structure, and god’s blessing.
If you are black or black church adjacent you’ve seen Pen and Pixel level flyers promoting events to fellowship but also learn to market your way into prosperity. For example:
Global just seems to tack on the additional revenue stream of credentials. I suspect they get a pretty good data stream for potential MLM recruits by selling these credentials.
I should note that the religious theme is deeply embedded in all black educational endeavors. I see it in traditional higher education, for-profits and all manner of questionable credentialing organizations like Global. That’s not new. What’s unique about this is their high profile customers, the ties to MLM and the apparent level of organization.
No one hates honorary degrees more than the woman I’ve interviewed, mostly black and hispanic women, working hard on doctorates at for-profit colleges. The tend to reject the idea of any kind of honorary degree devaluing their hard work, a form of legitimacy they assign to their credentials.
I’ll say that in my experience black women fall into MLMs and diploma mills and credentialing promises when they fall on hard times. So, black twitter jokes aside, be kind. 🙂
*Note that even for a professional, finding and verifying credential legitimacy symbols isn’t very easy. Imagine trying to do it when it’s not your job to know.
ETA 3/28/16: After a phone call from God’s U, I thought it worth looking up the recent graduation ceremony.
Her Excellency, God’s U President, Dr. Eubanks is said to be a graduate of Georgetown Law and former White House legal affiliate (per her online bio and LinkedIn account). Those affiliations may matter to one’s assessment of God’s U.
An affiliation that might matter more is the accreditation agency. God’s U says it is accredited:
I would like to tell you more about NABBCS but could not find: a website for it, any record of it with the U.S. Department of Education, or any listing in the countries where God’s U has held previous graduation ceremonies. I did find other bible college websites listing the accreditation. I also found this story from the New York Post (I know, I know) about another NABBCS accredited school:
As far as I can tell the graduation ceremonies do happen, the degrees ARE honestly marked as honorary (for the most part; a few pictures show certificates without the designation), and the woman listed as domain owner of godsu also owns other domains affiliated with various MLM companies, and Kelly Price does acknowledge her affiliation. And there you go. You can see Kelly’s graduation speech on Youtube.