John Jay College Community Celebrates Black History Month

John Jay College Community Celebrates Black History Month

John Jay College Community Celebrates Black History Month

Black History Month provides our nation with the opportunity to reflect on the many African-Americans whose lives indelibly shaped our country. As we enjoy the month’s celebration, it’s important to remember that African-American history is American history. It’s a history that began before there was a country, and it’s a history that can be commemorated by us all, no matter the month. As a nation, we still have a long way to go in terms of fighting systemic racism and inequality, but it’s through the examples of our African-American leaders, icons, and peers that we can draw hope and inspiration as we march forward toward a more perfect union.

John Jay College is proud to host a series of virtual events in honor of Black History Month. These virtual gatherings give us the opportunity to learn from each other through thoughtful, educational, and engaging experiences. In that spirit, we spoke with members of the John Jay College community to learn why celebrating Black History Month was important to them.

Leanna WellsLeanna Wells ’22
Major: Political Science

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month means looking back on African-American history and honoring the stories and moments that literally shape the world.

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
An African-American achievement that gives me great hope for the future, is Kamala Harris becoming the first Black Vice President of the United States. As a Black woman, the chance to watch another Black woman reach the second highest office in the country, lets me know that there are no limits to what we can accomplish, and any goal is reachable with determination and perseverance.

“As a Black woman, the chance to watch another Black woman reach the second highest office in the country, lets me know that there are no limits to what we can accomplish.” —Leanna Wells

If you could pick one African-American leader to sit down and have a conversation with, who would it be and what would you talk about?
If I could sit down with one African-American leader, it would be Shirley Chisholm, who once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” That has always stood out to me because it means you belong, even if others think you don’t. I would want to talk about her path and who motivated her along the way, and I’d ask her if she ever faced self-doubt at any time in her journey.

Jessica Gordon-NembhardJessica Gordon-Nembhard, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Africana Studies

What does Black History Month mean to you? 
Black History Month is a chance to have more people focus on the history of people of African descent, and hopefully have them learn and understand more about that history and incorporate what they learn into their lives throughout the year. Decades ago, Carter G. Woodson suggested Black History Week to celebrate Black accomplishments and support more research about people of African descent. The week would help expose people to non-Eurocentric knowledge, demonstrating how much there was to know and appreciate about Black history. His goal was that the week would lead to a Black History Month, and the month would lead people to incorporate Black history throughout the year. We still only have a month of Black History, but since Woodson started Black History Week, Black Studies Departments were demanded and established, and Black Studies/African and African Diaspora Studies/Africana Studies became an academic discipline. In a way, more people now study people of color all year round. People have begun to realize how much there is to know and how much understanding and insight they gain with a focus on Black history and studying all aspects of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). With the resurgence of the Movement for Black Lives, there’s now a focus on decolonizing the higher education curriculum and teaching about racial justice year-round.

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
I believe Black cooperative businesses are one of the best contributions and achievements of note, paving the way for how we can live, treat each other, and make a living that is democratic and just. Cooperatives are values-based, member-owned, member-run, and jointly owned enterprises created to address community challenges and to be governed democratically—shared decision making and profit sharing. Cooperatives solve many problems like access to quality food, good jobs, fair access to credit, electricity, and affordable housing. 

If you could pick one African-American leader to sit down and have a conversation with, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I would want to talk to Ella Jo Baker, a well-known Civil Rights activist and community organizer. She was a field organizer for the NAACP, was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr., and an advisor to the Student National Coordinating Committee. She started her career as a co-founder and executive director of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League. Baker not only argued for economic democracy, but spent her life promoting and training people to develop grassroots democratic leadership in communities. I would love to ask her about her years in the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League and learn more about her strategies for community and Civil Rights organizing.

Fatima MoienFatima Moien ’22
Major: Criminal Justice 

What does Black History Month mean to you?
To me, Black History Month is a time to celebrate and commemorate Black voices that will never be forgotten.

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
I remember watching the movie Hidden Figures and just being in awe of the cogency and tenacity of the women featured—these women that I didn't even know existed before their stories went mainstream. The stories of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan’s contribution to the NASA space program and astronaut John Glenn’s orbital space flight is the epitome of hard work. Their drive and work ethic is inspiring not just for our society but the science of tomorrow.

If you could pick one African-American leader to sit down and have a conversation with, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I would love to chat with Muhammad Ali. He was never afraid to be himself and to stand up for what he believed in. He lost a lot when he refused to enlist in the Vietnam War due to his religion. He was stripped of his Heavy-Weight Champion title, was banned from boxing for a few years, and was sentenced to five years in prison. I would love to ask him how he managed to carry that weight on his shoulders as an athlete, activist, and human. I’d also love to learn about his other endeavors, like his acting and rapping.

Jehovahnie Saint RoseJehovahnie Saint Rose ’22
Major: Philosophy

What does Black History Month mean to you?
To me, Black History Month should be more than a month. Black history should be celebrated every day of the year because it is American history. Black history is celebrating the former and current activist movements toward equality and justice throughout the world. Educating oneself about Black history should be a lifelong effort. Black history is an ongoing phenomenon of resilience. 

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
An African-American achievement that gives me hope and inspiration for the future is the privilege I have in educating my little cousins on our history. At their age, I didn’t know the history. Being able to teach my cousins what I now know and understand gives me hope. Passing on Black history to the younger generation is an act of self-liberation and activism.

“Black history should be celebrated every day of the year because it is American history.” —Jehovahnie Saint Rose

If you could pick one African-American leader to sit down and have a conversation with, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I would want to speak with African-American political activist, philosopher, author, and professor, Angela Davis. I adore her boldness and intellect. As someone who aspires to own a law firm that focuses on holistic defense, I would ask Professor Davis for advice on how to stay levelheaded whenever I feel as if all the odds are against me. I would get her opinion on how I should structure my law firm. I would also ask her how she is taking in and analyzing everything currently occurring around the world. Lastly, I would ask her how she was able to practice self-care while advocating for all forms of justice.

Joseph Adams
Photo credit : NYCHA

Alumnus Joseph Adams ’16
NYCHA, Board Member

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month to me means looking back at our history and being proud of how far we’ve come. 

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
The achievement within my own family and community has always inspired hope in me. I’m a fourth-generation American. My great grandfather, Pink Credle, and grandmother, Alice Credle (née Adams), of Swan Quarter, North Carolina were the first Black land owners in that county. Generations later, our family continues to strive for excellence despite the challenges we’ve faced. After dropping out of school in 1970, I overcame a learning disability and came to John Jay to earn my bachelor’s degree in 2008, and my M.P.A. in 2016 at the age of 62 years old.

 

Tasfia ArshadTasfia “Tas” Arshad ’21
Major: Law & Society

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month means honoring African-Americans and Black-Americans in this country who are still fighting for equity, not only in the United States but all around the world. It’s recognizing their history, their value, and what they do for our communities.

What African-American achievement or contribution gives you great hope and inspiration for the future?
The work of Stacey Abrams gives me great hope for the future. She, along with a group of Black female elected officials, voting advocates, and community organizers are widely responsible for increasing voter turnout and turning the state of Georgia blue this past presidential election. Stacey Abrams embodies the power and resiliency of grassroots movements and movements led by Black women.

“Stacey Abrams embodies the power and resiliency of grassroots movements and movements led by Black women.” —Tasfia “Tas” Arshad

If you could pick one African-American leader to sit down and have a conversation with who would it be and what would you talk about?
I would love to have a conversation with the late writer, social critic, and activist James Baldwin. He explored the intersectional themes of race, sex, poverty, and spirituality in his work. Baldwin was often subjected to discrimination and abuse as a gay Black man but he found solace through his writing. As a writer, I can relate because I find it easier to write how I am feeling and hope that others will be able to understand me better through my writing. I would love to talk to him about his feelings and any reservations he may have had during the Civil Rights Movement.