As she moved across the stage, the applause died down and the room fell silent, waiting and anticipating to see if Ilyasah Al Shabazz lived up to her name.
In the student center ballroom on Tuesday, Rowan University’s Africana Studies Department hosted its annual Rosa Parks Luncheon with keynote speaker Al Shabazz, the daughter of late civil and human rights activist Malcolm X. Al Shabazz is an author, activist, educator and motivational speaker.
Crisis in black education was the theme of this year’s luncheon. This is the 12th year that the Africana Studies department has held the luncheon in honor of Black History Month.
Before Shabazz took the stage to speak, performances included an African-inspired dance by local dance troupe Tajeva, and a song selection from Dr. Lourin Plant of the West Jersey Chamber Music Society.
A hushed silence fell over the audience as Shabazz took her place at the podium. She spoke on a myriad of subjects including the power of women, the inadequacy and the lack of black education, the importance of education and racial equality. She drew from past experiences and the values that both parents instilled in her, and reflected on her father’s life and experiences.
She encouraged young people to persevere and that every experience leads them to the path of where they are destined to be. She recalled how when she first started college, her major was math. She realized that it was not her calling and kept searching until she found her fit.
“Invest in uniting, in yourself, your purpose and building a legacy of your own,” she said.
A highlight of her speech was when she discussed the racial state that we are currently in and have been in before. She delved into what is known as the “African Holocaust,” which refers to the enslavement and degradation of diasporic people of African descent.
“It is not an issue of black and white,” she said, “but an issue of right and wrong.”
She finished by reminding young people that they have the power to make change in this world. It is not enough to tweet or hashtag, but to work towards an end goal, she said, and that it is our jobs as human beings to be compassionate and to shed light on truth and justice.
The luncheon serves as a fundraiser for the Gary Hunter Scholarship award. This year’s recipients were unable to attend due to student-teaching obligations.
Other attendees had various reasons for coming to the luncheon.
Sophomore Mary Roldan attended for the first time this year.
“I’ve always wanted to go,” said Roldan. “And when EOF sent the email asking if any students wanted to go, I replied.”
Tina Sloane Greene and her husband, Frank Greene, have been attending for years. They started in support of former Rowan President Herman James, who was the first black Rowan president. Frank Greene and James were roommates in college at Tuskegee University.
Associate Chair of Physics and Astronomy Dr. Tabbetha Dobbins has attended two years in a row. This year the dean of her department purchased a table and invited fellow faculty to attend.
“I would hate to miss it,” said Dobbins. “I always learn something.”
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