Black History Month Celebration Begins with Proclamation and Call to Action from Prominent Activist Shaun King

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Rutgers University-Newark is celebrating Black History Month with a series of events, including the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Conklin Hall Takeover. The kickoff took place at the Paul Robeson Center’s Essex Room on Monday, February 4. The audience that filled the seats in the room mirrored the university’s image of diversity as they intently listened to the powerful words being spoken. The event highlighted major landmark changes for black students at Rutgers University-Newark.

The celebration opened with a detailed history about the university, followed by a reading of the Proclamation for black students in 2019, and a sing-along to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Often referred to as the National Black Anthem, this African-American spiritual is a symbol of black liberation.

“For if it weren’t for the liberators of 1969, Rutgers University–Newark would not have been named the most diverse university in the country, and many of us would not be in this room today,” said 21-year-old Aisha Dukureh, current president of the Black Organization of Students (BOS).

Fifty years ago on the Rutgers-Newark campus, an organization called the Black Organization of Students (BOS) decided to take action towards a better future for all students. Frustrated with the administration’s lack of effort to comply with their demands, on February 24, 1969, BOS marched into Conklin Hall in the early morning and chained the doors. The students then changed the name of the building to “Liberation Hall.” Three days later, on February 27, 1969, students proved to be successful in their efforts, as the doors opened and the president at the time agreed to increase black enrollment along with increasing accessibility for minority students.

“It’s about how far we’ve come,” said Dukureh,  “not only as a university, but as a nation.”

The highlight of the event was guest speaker Shaun King, a journalist and activist for civil rights movements who has written more than 1,500 articles on injustice since the Black Lives Matter movement. He has been hailed by Time Magazine as “one of the most influential people of the world on the internet,” is chief executive officer of The North Star and the co-founder of The Real Justice PAC, and travels across the country to inform others on how to start a revolution.

One of the many important points of his speech highlighted the Conklin Hall Takeover and how past efforts in creating change can greatly impact the future.

“When I was a student, I don't think I had the capacity to think 50 years ahead,” said King. “But there is a powerful lesson in what they did, that sometimes your actions today will reverberate all throughout history and generations that follow you will get to kind of experience the fruits of your labor.”

During his speech, King informed students about the importance of change. Using examples from the Conklin Hall Takeover, King provided four key methods to making change work: first, having energized people; second, having organized people; third, having a sophisticated plan that is as serious and complex as the problem itself; and finally, having resources. Along with helping the families of victims of gun violence and police brutality, King’s social justice efforts are deeply rooted in fighting to make the world a better place for his children.

After King’s speech, students enjoyed light refreshments, posed for pictures with King, and asked him additional questions in person.

One Rutgers-Newark student, 18-year-old Osiris Estrada, enjoyed seeing King in person and believes that knowing how to address the topic of social injustice is better than guessing.

“I came today in support of my friends to understand the black community,” said Estrada.

As a Latin American, Estrada says the demonstrations performed by students in Conklin Hall 50 years ago not only helped the future of black students, but also Latino students as well.

“It is a worldwide thing,” said Estrada. “It is the support we are getting from everyone to help us. If we do not have the support, we have no place. That is our response.”

The Black History Month Kickoff with Shaun King is just one of the many events scheduled to take place this month. For a complete list of the events, click here.

To view photos from the kickoff, click here.