Ramapo celebrates Black Solidarity Week with cemetery clean up

The Black Student Union (BSU), Organization of Latino Unity (OLU), Students of Caribbean Ancestry, the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance and other organizations have come together to host an assortment of events in celebration of the college’s Black student body and ancestors for Black Solidarity Week. These events will be taking place from Nov. 5-10. They kicked the week off on Sunday by cleaning the Hopper Slave Cemetery, located across from the college on Ramapo Valley Road. 

The clean-up serves as a way to honor the formerly enslaved people who did not receive the honor they deserved in life. A group of 10 people met in the BSU office to walk past the Arch and across the street from campus to the cemetery. This was a little off the beaten path, but was just a short walk from the campus’s main entrance.

“I think I just wanted to come out here and support and really have a better understanding of what this is. I have never heard of this area until now, so it is just a good way to educate myself.”

– Jennifer Lopez, Freshman representative of OLU

“It was never really a place that was taken care of, so it’s just nice to honor these enslaved people of color by cleaning up their graves,” said OLU President Olivia Roche.

She said that the history behind the cemetery is what makes it so special. The presence of slavery in the North is not really discussed, but the graves in the cemetery prove that it did exist. For this cemetery in particular, it was put in a place that was hidden and right by a river that was not easily accessible. The cemetery is not often taken care of, but that is where the Ramapo community comes in to honor the formerly enslaved people through this work.

There are rocks placed throughout the cemetery. Some are marked with names and how they died, others are blank just holding their spot on the land. There were babies that were buried there, and some of the unmarked graves are for freed people, too.

“No one should be forgotten and that is why we do what we do,” Roche said. “We honor them and make sure they get the recognition they deserve.”

While completing their yearly tradition of cleaning up the cemetery, BSU found a newly established plaque placed inside the cemetery to honor the slaves. Mahwah Boy Scouts and the Mahwah Historic Preservation Commission cosponsored the plaque’s placement, to give people more information about the stones that are set inside the cemetery. 

The event lasted two hours, consisting of cleaning up the leaves around the graves and clearing a path to the rocks that surround the cemetery. Participants talked about the history behind the cemetery, educating themselves about the importance of what they were cleaning up and preparing for the vigil that would take place on Monday. 

Freshman representative of OLU Jennifer Lopez shared her experience at the cemetery. “I think I just wanted to come out here and support and really have a better understanding of what this is. I have never heard of this area until now, so it is just a good way to educate myself,” she said.

BSU President Quanae’ Daniels said that there were more participants this year than last, making it a great stepping stone for the future of this event and for the club. She said that it’s important to get more people to come out and educate themselves during Black Solidarity Week. BSU is hoping to have more people reach out and become more aware of the history that surrounds us on campus. 

“When you first walk in [to the cemetery], you can kind of see that it hasn’t been touched in a while,” Daniels said. “And every time we finish cleaning up, the sun, it shines a little bit brighter.” She says that in a way it feels like those buried in the cemetery are thanking the students for coming out to do this and honor them. 

A list of the rest of the Black Solidarity Week events can be found on the bulletin board outside of BSU’s office or on their Instagram page, @rcnjbsu.




Featured photo courtesy of Rebecca Bleich