Black History Month Student Senate Continuing the Movement for Social Justice March and Rally

Welcoming Remarks by President Kesselman

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Author and activist, James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

For generations, the dysfunction of American society marred with violence, oppression and racism remained untouched, unchanged, and unjust. Change would soon come, but not before one heartbreaking pivotal moment… the slaughter of innocence without vindication— I am speaking of the horrific lynching in 1955 of 14-year-old Emmitt Till, and a jury that offered no justice.

Till’s death would not be in vain. Out of the outrage and pain grew a movement… one fueled with passion and precision, organization, and tireless activism; a movement that gave rise to unmatched leadership, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the Honorable John Lewis, to name a few; a movement that inspired a nation to come face to face with the dreadful atrocities it deliberately and systemically inflicted upon people of color.

And it was this movement that gave birth to ground-breaking civil rights victories, such as Brown vs Board of Education, and cornerstone legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, our nation is yet again, faced with a moment of reckoning. The killing of African Americans by the hands of police more than demonstrates the urgency of societal reform. And the recent despicable act of the Capitol insurrection, driven by fears and lies ….

COULD NOT HAVE PAINTED a more vivid, ugly example of white privilege.

Folks, it’s time for us to “tell the truth and shame the devil” about the racial divide, inequity, and social injustices of our society.

In other words, it’s time for us to question the statement That’s not us,” because, if history serves as a reminder, it sure does look like us. But, I believe we are better than this.  And as Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you must do better.”

As for Stockton, we are committed to doing better, in every aspect of our community. Because “doing better” falls on the shoulders of every stakeholder at every level. This is why we’ve proclaimed our commitment to dismantling systemic racism. This is why we are “infusing race and racial justice throughout our curriculum.”

And this is why Stockton’s Board of Trustees,’ our governing body, memorialized in a powerful resolution:

  • our commitment to racial and social justice, diversity and inclusion;
  • our commitment “to [foster] a campus community free of racism, where every person regardless of race has the social, economic and political power to thrive;” and
  • our unwavering support, commitment, and affirmation that Black lives absolutely matter.

We understand that our success as a society depends on your success as students. Therefore, “doing better” must include promoting an equitable, inclusive college climate for all students. We understand that fostering meaningful connections is critical to student success.

Therefore, we strive to cultivate an environment where a sense of belonging is valued, and a culture of respect is nurtured. Moreover, we understand that providing a safe environment for our students to learn and grow is a non-negotiable necessity.

Therefore, words of hate, violence, and racist actions, such as the Zoom bombings taking place at some of our fellow academic institutions, will not be tolerated nor excused at Stockton.

My mother used to say, “there’s nothing new under the sun;” and these Zoom bombings are just the latest virtual twist on racist and misogynistic intimidation practices, driven by cowardly, cyber bullies. Well, we have a response for these digital terrorists,…WE, at Stockton, SHALL NOT BE MOVED.

Do you want to know What moves us? This celebration of Black History, the celebration of Black excellence, the honoring of Black history makers of the past, and the admiration of Black history makers of the present.

We celebrate Black excellence in Politics, honoring Wynona Lipman, the first African- American woman to serve in the NJ Senate in 1972; and celebrating Kamala Harris, the first African American and Asian American Vice President of the United States, moreover, the first woman to hold that office

We celebrate Black excellence in STEM, honoring Katherine Johnson, the brilliant NASA mathematician, who’s mathematical calculations literally served as the catalyst that brought the space program closer to the moon; and we celebrate Atlantic City native, Dr. Ernest McDuffie, cybersecurity expert and Stockton alumni, wielding more than four decades of STEM field experience to improve cyber behavior.

We celebrate Black excellence in Activism, recognizing Black Lives Matter. This worldwide movement, birthed out of the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, has spurred demonstrations and peaceful protest in every one of the United States, in more than 60 countries, and spans across 6 continents; and has recently been nominated for the distinguished Nobel Peace Prize award.

We also celebrate Stockton’s own, Dr. Christina Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, scholar-activist, and core member of the Atlantic City Chapter of Black Lives Matter, whose community engagement, local activism, and scholarly activity has earned critical acclaim in higher education and throughout the southern New Jersey/Philadelphia region.

We celebrate Black Excellence in the Arts, honoring Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet and the first National Youth Poet Laureate, who captivated the world while reciting her amazingly inspirational work, “The Hill We Climb,” at the recent inauguration for President Joe Biden.

We also celebrate Stockton student, Malikah Stafford, UBSS member, Communications Studies major, and aspiring future poet laureate, whose bold and provocative poem, entitled, “On Your Knees,” spoke unapologetic truth about racial oppression and social injustice experienced historically by people of color in America.

I could go on and on acknowledging the various undertakings of Black history makers and those in the making; but I am limited in time. So, on behalf of Stockton University, we proudly salute the accomplishments, achievements, bravery and courage of all Black history makers, influencers, and unsung heroes behind the movements.

Our world is all the better because of your voice, your gifts, and your invaluable service. May they inspire all who follow, in leading our beloved nation toward the goal of being a “more perfect union.”  Thank you.