Black History Month was celebrated at Montclair State University on Feb. 1 with a procession led by university police and members of the Black community.
The Pan-African flag, sometimes known as the Afro-American flag or the Black Liberation flag, flew alongside the American and New Jersey flags from Susan A. Cole Hall to the Student Center flagpole.
Following the procession, Dr. Saundra Collins, the psychology cooperative education coordinator at Montclair State, listed notable Black leaders. She further expressed the immense change Black pioneers brought forth and how people should honor their legacy.
“Mary McLeod Bethune left us with this lesson; we are heirs and custodians of a great legacy,” Collins said. “We must bear that burden with dignity, strength and determination. [We must honor] Fannie Lou Hamer in remembering her uncompromising stance against discrimination at the National Democratic Convention in 1964. It is in her memory that we must, we must go out and vote.”
After highlighting notable Black leaders who have paved the way, Voices of Unity, Montclair State’s gospel choir, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem, as the crowd rejoiced with them.
After the choir sang, Montclair State President Jonathan Koppell honored the history of Black people and acknowledged many accomplishments they have made in the nation. He then expressed how Frederick Douglass was one of his role models in life.
“What I find fascinating about [Douglass’] evolution as a thinker and a leader is that he emerged from slavery and somehow embraces the very constitution and laws that established the legality of owning slaves,” Koppell said. “He accepts the words of the Constitution, the laws and all the ideas that have been articulated, and [says] ‘OK, you say all these things. Just make them real,’ which I find to be remarkable.”
Following Koppell’s message, students from different Black organizations expressed how Black pioneers’ perseverance gleamed in the face of adversity, no matter how much people tried to dim their light. They further reflected upon what they did and how as a society we must continue the fight.
Jordan Stewart, a senior political science and African American studies major and the vice president of The Brotherhood La Hermandad, an on-campus organization that aides Black and Hispanic males from an academic, professional and social standpoint, spoke about Fred Hampton and what he taught him.
“My older brother used to tell me all the time: ‘[The] responsibility of the educated [Black person] is to educate, empower and inspire,’ and those were the three things that [Hampton] did in his short life of 21 years,’” Stewart said. “And it hit home for me [because] I’m 21, so I see myself, and he was revolutionary. I truly believe all of us in this room have unique qualities and God-given gifts that empower us to be revolutionary.”
Tyler Anderson, a senior business administration major, reflected at the end of the event and explained that it is imperative to have events like these for the Black community on campus because it shows that their voices are being heard.
“I feel like this event was very necessary and very appropriate for Black students [and] students of African descent here on campus,” Anderson said. “I feel like we need an opportunity to be heard, to be seen and to be represented and honored. And I feel like this event did exactly that.”