On Feb. 26 Rowan University’s Africana Studies held the 15th Annual Rosa Parks Luncheon in the Eynon Ballroom. Guest Speaker, LaTosha Brown, received the Rosa Parks Commemoration award, which acknowledges humanitarian and civil rights leaders. The award started in 2005, after the death of “the mother of the civil rights movement” Rosa Parks.
Dr. Alicia Monroe, assistant director of the Office of Career Development, introduced Brown, but started with thanking her for efforts in civic engagement.
“I can’t tell you how much your work has inspired and continues to inspire our students, family and community. For that, I have gratitude and wanted to thank you personally,” Monroe said.
Brown co-founded Black Voters Matter, which media outlets have credited as a critical force in the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race. She is also the principal owner of Truth Speaks Consulting, Inc. Monroe has 25 years of experience in the world of non-profit and philanthropy sectors in social justice, economic development and civil rights.
Brown greeted the audience with “Keep your Eyes on the Prize,” an African American folk song that became synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. She highlighted her talents as a jazz singer.
“Having been a native of Selma, Alabama. Having the privilege to be trained by some of the folks who were in the civil rights movement. I’ve heard so many stories,” Brown said.
Brown received recognition for her philanthropic endeavors like the 2010 White House Champion of Change Award and the Louis Burnham Award for Human Rights, among other decorations.
“I remember the first time I met Ms. Parks,” Brown said. “She had this certain kind of amazing energy and powerful quality. She was quiet, but you knew when she was present.”
Brown highlighted some personal anecdotes about the Life of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to comply with Jim Crow laws in the ’50s.
“It bothered (Rosa Parks), that people had this idea she was just tired, like physically tired and didn’t want to get up,” she said. “That’s not why I was tired. I was actually tired of being treated the way we were being treated. I was tired of the injustice.”
Her core message on Wednesday night related to the current Democratic Primary, and as someone who helps rally voters through her Black Votes Matter movement, she was adamant about getting people civically involved.
“Not to push a candidate, but I want to challenge our thinking. There has been a diverse field, but what we’ve been accustomed to is giving our power over to political parties,” Brown said. “Now choices instead of being seen as a blessing, we see as a burden. That’s what happens when we are not engaged in democracy.”
Outside the ballroom a voting registration kiosk was set up to register anyone who wished to engage in the political process. Guests also enjoyed a dance performance by Atomic Legacy from the College of Fine & Performing Arts. Rowan University professor, Candace Kelley, hosted the event and had some choice words for Atomic Legacy.
“If you know anything about the Atomic Legacy Dancers, you know you are going to want to get up and dance yourself. Can I get an Amen?” Kelley said.
African American folk music was a key part in this year’s Rosa Parks Luncheon. Rowan University student violinist, Xavion Collier and performing arts professor, Dr. Lourin Plant showcased African American culture through music. Plant sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” an African American spiritual about the dream of freedom. The Luncheon concluded with a benediction from Rev. Shirley Farrar of The Meeting House Church in Voorhees, New Jersey.
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