By: Anika Nahar – Copy Editor
Kennedy Smith approached the microphone with confidence. He shot a mischievous glance to the audience and announced, in a deep voice, that he needed their help.
Smith, an aspiring rapper who goes by GenoFive, cued the audience in Ballroom C with a simple fill-in-the-blank: “Barack Obama is a…”
“Black man!” the crowd answered in unison.
Smith, smiling, said, “Alright, that’s great.”
For the next few minutes, Smith egged on the crowd. All of his sentences ended the same way — “Cops don’t care how we bleed as a…,” “Good cops are rarely seen by a…,” “Because no matter what we achieve, we will always be seen as a…”
Smith was reciting his poem as a part of the opening ceremony of WPUNJ’s celebration of Black History Month on Feb. 2. Organized by the African Heritage Celebration Committee, the ceremony signaled the beginning of a month-long string of events, such as a movie night/discussion on the controversial film, “Dear White People” on Feb. 15.
Under a president who has been criticized for delaying to condemn white supremacists who supported him, students expressed hope that the theme of the Black History Month activities, “From Tragedy to Triumph,” would highlight the African-American struggle since the nation’s founding.
“I’m proud that William Paterson University puts together a whole month of activities to celebrate, and to acknowledge, and to explain black history,” said WPUNJ President Kathleen Waldron.
Kareem Kinslow, chair of the Black Student Union, and Michelle Johnson, chief diversity officer of the Office of Employment Equity and Diversity, introduced the forthcoming events including the “Harlem Cultural Experience,” where students will have the chance to visit NYC and tour the Apollo Theater on Feb. 18.
In an allusion to President Trump’s comments on the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Johnson said with a smirk, “Contrary to popular belief, Frederick Douglass is not alive.”
As the audience laughed, Johnson continued, “He is one of the people who we will be honoring this month, as well as many others who are no longer with us, and many others who are still with us who need to be celebrated as well.”
After Johnson spoke, the audience stood as WPUNJ student Ruth Bennett sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Black American National Anthem.”
She ceded the microphone to Smith for his compelling poem on the injustices faced by the black community.
“They’re treating Black Panthers like rebellions, demons, but the Klan gets treated with open arms and freedom,” Smith recited.
Other speakers included Dr. James E. Alford, assistant professor of Educational Leadership, Dr. Danielle Wallace, assistant professor of Africana World Studies, who offered historical background on the origins of Black History Month. Waldron voiced her support and gratitude for the organizers of the ceremony and encouraged the audience to attend the various Black History Month events occurring on campus.