In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and emphasizing the importance of being prepared for a professional world, LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) welcomed Angie Cruz on October 31st in the E-building’s Poolside Café. Ms. Cruz, who previously visited the campus in 2017, is an Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, writer of short stories and […]
Despite the ill-lit skies on the morning of April 18th, the troupe of students, faculty members and guests enthusiastically rallied around Remembrance Rock on the City College Campus to commemorate the protests that took place in 1969. The protests initiated a change in the CUNY system that opened the doors to prospective students without hindrance that would otherwise deemed unqualified for admission. The protests served a purpose for equal opportunity for all students regardless of race and both economic and academic stature. The 50th anniversary of this historic event invoked both nostalgia and ambition among the attendees as they huddled under their umbrellas.
Many people who participated in the 1969 takeover were present along with others who have worked tirelessly to continue to strive for the plans and changes that the protests resulted in. As the crowd made their way from the NAC Building down the street to Remembrance Rock located just outside the Architecture Library, the cameramen trailed behind with their equipment. Several of the people carried a large Puerto Rican flag in support of their antecedents. Many speakers shared their personal anecdotes and experiences from the original protests as well as the discrimination they so vividly lived through and the lack of diversity they witnessed as both students and faculty.
One of the key speakers, Esperanza Martell, had a boisterous persona that radiated throughout the crowd and had the same fierceness that was present when she participated in the protests back when she herself was a student in 1969. She has maintained a passion for activism and civil rights since her days as a student at City College. She clutches her microphone as she highlighted the struggles the Puerto Rican and Black community encountered during her own time as a college student as well as the struggles that continue to persist in today’s educational system. Those that were a part of this significant moment in history only wanted to change the barriers that were built for students like themselves. They rose together as a community and as a family. Martell along with many other devoted activists worked to institute a change and combat injustice primarily in the CUNY system.
When prompted, Martell elaborated, “Our parents were here. This was a community struggle that was taken over by the academics, it was whitewashed. One of the things I’ve learned in all the years of organizing is you got to be consistent, you got to be persistent, and you got to think about the future… we won the battle but we lost the war because we didn’t think that a few years from now ‘what is this gonna look like?’”. The community struggle did not entirely end after City College students put up a fight. It is now 50 years later and students as well as faculty are continuing to strive to end the discrimination and change the policies CUNY have that make it difficult for determined students to pursue their education. Roadblocks are constantly sprouting in students’ paths. As Martell delivered the end of her speech, the crowd erupted in applause while someone shouted, “That’s right! Tell the truth!”
Hank Williams, an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College, reminded those who were listening that the purpose of remembering this point in history was, “not just to remind you what has been done but the work that still needs to be done”. The fight continues and it is up to those that follow to lend their voice. Inez Barron, Chairperson of the Higher Education Committee of the City Council emphasized that CUNY once offered free tuition, which was discontinued in 1976 after intense scrutiny from the government. Barron reiterated, “CUNY needs to return to a tuition free institution. The will will make it happen.”
Maria Teresa “Mariposa” Fernandez is a poet and also an adjunct faculty member at Lehman College and used the opportunity of this day to deliver a powerful poem titled “Roar” that was written by Cenen Moreno. For every “I want to”, the crowd would end the line by responding “Roar!” The poem expressed fierceness and the dedication in finding one’s identity and the fight to prevent being stripped of it. Interacting with the crowd, Fernandez helped draw the pride and vigor that every person participating was feeling on hearing the different speakers recount the sentiments of 1969.
Other speakers volunteered to speak about their own experiences and differences and how the protests of 1969 and its effect trickled down to what it is today. The rest of the speakers spoke about what still can be done for improvement and what role each individual is capable of having in order to achieve the success they all desire. The ceremony concluded with the crowd chanting back and forth, “free tuition! Free CUNY!” as they placed flowers on the plaque located at the base of Remembrance Rock that commemorates the 1969 takeover. Equality within education should not be something that cannot be guaranteed and sadly that continues to happen each and every day. The walk to Remembrance Rock helped pay a tribute to the original takeover and to those that were a part of the fight to institute change. Everyone has a voice and everyone was heard.