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 […]
It was a Thursday morning and from the Little Theatre there was a heartbeat. Breasted drums filled the air as the people in attendance made their way to their seats with an orange hue from the stage lights highlighting their faces. The chatter in the theater was its own song competing with the rhythm of the drums and then suddenly the lights dimmed. The chatter stopped, the drum stopped, and everyone’s attention turned to the stage with a backdrop that read “Black Lives Matter.”
LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) hosted the 5th annual Black Live Matter Summit on April 18th in the Little Theatre to celebrate people of color and bring together those who believe in the power of activism.
Filling the room was an overwhelming number of students, not just from college but high school, as well as faculty and staff standing as “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, often referred to as the “Black National Anthem”, was sung by Antonyio Artis, a theater student at LAGCC, to commemorate the days’ panels and discussions.
To start the morning off right, the Director of Campus Recreation and event coordinator Jerell Robinson walked onto the stage with his cheerful energy to briefly greet the audience before introducing LaGCC’s President Gail O. Mellow in conducting the opening remarks.
Exuding poise and charm, President Mellow walked on the stage and welcomed everyone in attendance, asking if there were any high-school students in the audience. Then she posed the question, “are you going to college? The audience erupted in applause as the high-school students shouted, “Yes!” When the audience simmered down President Mellow urged the audience to think about the power of the Black Live Matter movement. She explained that it’s a process that is organic and strategic that brings the community together in public protest; taking voices and creating a vision for a world that we want to live in. In the close of her speech she challenged the audience to do more than put words out there through social media, President Mellow said, “words are important… but, if words are the only thing that happens because of Black Lives Matter, I’m worried we aren’t doing enough… action has to happen.”
Following President Mellow’s opening remarks, many unique moments took place.
Shawn Best, the Interim Director of the Black Male Initiative (BMI) at the City University of New York, a program created to support and improve the lives of men of color, discussed how BMI is, “the only student development office that exists in every CUNY school, and they are the best kept secret.”
Chivona Renee Newsome, Director of Operations for Black Lives Matter Greater New York (BLM Greater NY), here to support Amani Garcia, President of the BLM Greater NY Youth Coalition; speaking in one of the five panels on Youth in Activism, announced she will be running for congress in the Bronx, District 15; the poorest congressional district in the nation.
Jason Hendrickson, an English Professor at LAGCC, stood at the podium to announce the winners of the first ever Black Lives Matter Summit Essay Contest. The winners, Jean Carvajal in third place for the essay “No Judgements No Peace,” myself, Kayla Williams, in second place for the essay “A Dialogue Based in Truth,” and George Encalada in first place for the essay “Black Culture in America,” walked across the stage together as we accepted our awards.
On the same stage, Shaun King, a journalist and civil rights activist, who was LAGCC’s commencement speaker last year, returned to inspire the all who attended the summit by starting with the story of a 5-year-old boy he met in the audience. The boy’s name is King Singh, who is battling pediatric cancer. In the audience, the young boy stood with a smile as Mr. King told him that everyone is the room believes in him and his fight; and how proud we were of him.
“If King can be 5 years old, pushing through pediatric cancer… and show up, it’s like what excuse do we ever have,” Mr. King said.
In the later half of his speech, Mr. King talked about the political climate and social injustice that this nation is currently experiencing. He said, “it’s hard to know a moment in history when you’re in it,” and later added, “when you’re experiencing real life it doesn’t feel like the history books.” He went on to discuss the events core topic of activism; sharing the importance of having a movement centered leadership that consists of organized, highly energized people, sophisticated plans, and resources. He ended by explaining that if we combine these four elements into our movements, “you will see change.”
As the event continued, the crowd dispersed, and were given the option to choose between four panel discussions that focused on different extensions of activism, creativity, and intellect within the black community. One of which was Youth in Activism, discussing the importance of having young voices fighting for equality. President of the Youth Coalition, Ms. Garcia shared that her path to becoming an activist began at the age of 12. She explained, “I am artivist,” because she uses art as her way to call attention to social injustice.
People in attendance watched as the panel discussion turned into a healthy debate when Ms. Garcia and Roman Britton, a high-school student and founder of Lawless Music Group, disagreed on the tactic of protest. Ms. Garcia said, “we need a different approach.” In front of everyone they talked out their differences of opinion resulting in Mr. Britton saying, “she’s like my sister… we have discussions like this all the time,” showing that it takes open-mindedness and patience to create lasting change.