Ramapo opens Black History Month with heartfelt speeches

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College.

Black History Month is one of the most important traditions held in American history. Celebrated every February, it is a time to acknowledge the stories, history and the many accomplishments the Black community has achieved. 

On Feb. 3, Ramapo College officially welcomed the month with an opening proclamation inside of Friends Hall. Students and faculty alike came to hear the various speakers commence the month and discuss its vitalness.

The event kicked off with a welcome from the Chief Officer of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance (EDIC) Nicole Agard, who then segued to Ramapo President Cindy Jebb. She took a more historical approach to looking at Black History Month.

“We, Ramapo College, acknowledge and celebrate our students, faculty and staff of the African diaspora and we pay tribute to the generations of people who made an impact on our history and culture in the United States,” Jebb said.

After Jebb spoke, participants were invited to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has widely been hailed as the Black national anthem. With the song’s rise in prominence ever since the George Floyd protests began, it felt proper to celebrate the song’s place in history by hearing it performed by such a large group. 

This was followed by two speakers: student Ian Walker of Brothers Making a Difference and Assistant Director of EDIC Rachel Sawyer-Walker. Both of them shared their stories of how they came to embrace their Black identities. 

Walker discussed how, after he went to events sponsored by Ramapo’s Black Student Union, he felt solidarity with the people he was with and found a calling to help others. To him, one must “always make sure to be nice and respectful to people,” and he was grateful to the people who taught him that lesson via firsthand experience.

As for Sawyer-Walker, she followed up with a more in-depth look at the importance of Black History Month. She took the time to highlight how BHM relates to Black people that also belong to other minority groups, such as Black Muslims or Black people in the LGBTQ+ community. 

She explained her belief that college students are some of the most important people that can incite change.

“Our students here at Ramapo, they are fundamental in the liberation of all people because they are the most willing to empathize and create cultural safety for others,” Sawyer-Walker said.

To her, Gen Z is the generation that can best change society for the better, and she hopes those aspirations pass down to the students of today. "If we don't remove barriers, that's how the system maintains."

Agard highlighted the wide variety of events that would be running throughout the month that would highlight different aspects of the Black experience. From discussion panels like “Saved by the bell hooks Books” to more recreational events like “Apollo Night,” there will be plenty of ways for Ramapo students to celebrate Black History Month, whether one looks to the past or is pushing for a better future.

With the amount of events in place, there are plenty of ways to get involved, learn more about the African diaspora, and how to show solidarity with them during this month and every day of the year. For more information on upcoming BHM-focused events, visit the Office of EDIC’s webpage at https://www.ramapo.edu/affirmaction/.