3DI Studio | VUU breaks ground on center
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VUU breaks ground on center

Robert J. Brown pledged his continued support for VUU.

With a chapel service and the symbolic “breaking of the hallowed grounds,” Virginia Union University prepared Thursday to begin construction on its first new building in 15 years.

The $15 million Robert J. Brown Living and Learning Center signifies more than just a new building, said Claude G. Perkins, president of the university founded 147 years ago in a former slave jail.

“Our democracy will not work for everybody unless and until ignorance is washed away,” he said.

The new complex adds “to our arsenal” to educate young people in support of a democratic society, Perkins said.

“We know the notion of freedom is only a concept in a community of ignorance,” he said. “Thus we know that you cannot be ignorant and free.”

The 68,000-square-foot complex will house 240 students in residential suites and include conference and seminar facilities. Scheduled to open in fall 2014, it is to be built on the back corner of the campus where basketball and tennis courts are now located.

It will be the first new facility since the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center was built in 1997 and the first new residence hall since 1966. The university has an enrollment of about 1,750 students, including 400 graduate students in the School of Theology.

“This is hallowed ground for me,” said Brown, the building’s namesake.

Brown, who served in the White House as a special assistant to President Richard M. Nixon, is chairman and CEO of B&C Associates, a consulting and marketing research company in High Point, N.C. His $2 million pledge to VUU is the largest gift, excluding bequests, from a single donor in the university’s history.

“When I came here, I couldn’t dream of what my life would be like today,” he said. When he came to VUU in 1954, it was the first time he’d been away from the grandparents who raised him in North Carolina, he recalled Thursday.

His grandparents were poor, and his grandmother had only a third- or fourth-grade education, he said. Her father had been a slave in eastern North Carolina.

Brown told his grandmother not to send him money “because we didn’t have any money,” he said.

But every month, she would send him $10 and a letter telling him, “I want you to do well. I want you to climb to the mountaintop. … You can do great things in this world.”

“She would tell me that over and over and over again until I believed it,” he said.

Although Brown left VUU for family reasons after a year, at the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday he pledged his continued support to take other “young people and this school … to the top of the mountain.”

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