Atlanta is a college town that offers a unique student demographic and a choice of great schools to attend. One of those schools is a Beulah Heights University, one of the oldest Christian universities in the Southeast. Founded in 1918, the university is located just two miles from downtown in the historic Grant Park area. It will observe its centennial anniversary later this month.
Leading the institution since 2004 is its distinguished president, Dr. Benson M. Karanja, a native of Njoro, Kenya, in Nakuru District. His is an amazing story of a man from the humblest of beginnings, whose transformation elevated him to the presidency of a leading institution of higher education. Rolling out had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Karanja at Beulah Heights University as the school prepares to celebrate its founding 100 years ago in Atlanta.
Dr. Karanja, you made an incredible transition of circumstances that can only be called miraculous and inspirational. In Kenya, you were a successful farmer and businessman and very well respected in the community. Why did you want to leave your life in Kenya for America?
It all began when I attended a religious and economic convention in Atlanta in 1987. The convention’s purpose was to bring [together] all people of faith [from] all over the world. If the people would put their resources together and speak with one voice, it would represent the 10th wealthiest country in the world. So I came to that conference and stayed in Atlanta for about a week. When I was in my hotel room, I felt a voice tell me strongly to go to school — but not just any school. I was driven to attend a bible college. It was a crazy idea. After all, I was a successful businessman, and I could go to a bible college in Kenya, so why Atlanta? The whole idea was very strong, and I looked at numerous brochures and picked Beulah Heights. My friends and family could not understand that God had a vision for me.
When you came to Atlanta, you got a job as a janitor at Beulah Heights University while you were a student there. What made you get up each day to clean floors, empty garbage, and study?
When I was flying over the Atlantic to America, I felt the need to go through a transformation. I felt that transformation involved a bridge to something bigger to where God was leading me. The only job I could get at that time was as a janitor. I took the job with pride and a feeling of peace within me. I enjoyed what I was doing because it was like I was in a boot camp [with] a lot of preparation and training for something much bigger. At that time, I did not know what that bigger and more important place was. I never thought I would be president or any other higher position than what I had as a janitor.
Why did you choose Beulah Bible College at the time?
While at Beulah, I realized I was never going to be a preacher. I was not called to the pulpit. I am not a traditional pastor. But I was a pastor with a different responsibility. While working my way through Beulah Heights and finishing my coursework, I was asked to help in the college library. At this time, I had my B.A. in Biblical studies and was preparing for my master’s [degree] when Beulah called me for assistance.
Beulah was going through a transformation that would ultimately lead to its status as a fully accredited university in Georgia, but it needed a trained librarian as part of the structure. Because of my background and work in the college library, I told the college president at the time that I would help the school. I entered the master’s of library science program at Clark-Atlanta University. I completed the rigorous two-and-a-half-year program in just a year-and-a-half. I then came on board as the librarian for Beulah Heights and helped the university succeed in eventually getting its accreditation. I then went on to also teach a course as a professor at the school and earn my Ed.D.
So, to get this straight, your path at Beulah was a janitor, student, librarian, professor and eventually the first African immigrant to become a college president at an American school.