Ramapo’s Equity and Diversity Programs held a banquet Monday with special guest speaker Dr. David E. Jones to mark the end of African Ancestry Month. Jones is a diversity and leadership consultant and speaker for the Harris Jones Consulting Group, as well as the director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Jones started his speech by explaining the significance of African Ancestry Month.
“We’re celebrating black history,” he stated, “It’s a beautiful thing.”
He explained that celebrating black history needs to be ongoing and not just designated for a single month.
Jones then introduced the topic of his speech: remembering the sacrifice and struggles of ancestors, as well as evoking a call to action for justice. Justice was a common theme in Jones’ speech. He repeated the phrase “the urgency for justice is now” frequently throughout the presentation.
Jones emphasized the need for justice by recognizing oppressed groups in various communities. He talked about Muslims, transgender people and police brutality, asking the audience, “Did you speak up?” when these groups were victimized.
Jones then explained how people learn from an early age not to speak up for identities that do not immediately relate them. He further explained how it is the College’s job to un-teach the students this way of thinking.
The next part of the speech focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. Jones discussed how police brutality, the current administration and the disproportionate incarceration rates all pose a direct threat to the black community. He specifically looked at the cases of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland.
“It makes no sense to me” Jones said, “People see them as criminals simply because of the color of their skin.”
Jones then honed in on the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement on college campuses. He stressed the need for community and safe spaces for people of color. He also challenged audience members to consider what they were doing to promote inclusion and fight inequality on campus.
“What are you doing to ensure people feel loved and valued?” Jones asked.
Jones offered various actions people can take to do this. He believes that people first need to be conscious of their privilege and their identities and added that they need to listen to the narratives of others.
He also quoted Albert Einstein stating, “You need to be a voice, not an echo.”
Then he wanted the audience to name the inequities and injustices in administrations and facilities so that others will be forced to address them.
Lastly, Jones stressed the need for people to be active and “always fight against the oppressor.”
Jones acknowledged that many times leaders in communities will ignore issues that minorities face because it is too difficult or risky. He, however, told the audience to pursue anyway.
“What do you do with that resistance?” Jones asked, “You fight. You fight like Martin Luther King, like Rosa Parks, like Malcom X and so many others."
Jones concluded his speech by recognizing that April 4 will be the 49-year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death.
“We need to continue the fight that he fought for,” Jones stated.
Jones’ speech was an excellent finale to Ramapo’s celebration of African Ancestry Month.
“It was very empowering, very eye opening,” stated Elizabeth Guzman, freshman.
Senior Tamisha Ceus commented, “I think it was really cool how he said we need to fight for everyone. I think that’s one of the biggest issues. We only fight for ourselves, and not those who are different than us.”