For the kickoff of Black History Month, Saint Peter’s University held an online event that drew over 100 people, peaking at 108, to celebrate and honor Black history and culture.
The event was hosted on Zoom by Dr. Devin Heyward, Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Fatima Camara, President of the Black Action Committee.
At the start of the event, Dr. Heyward acknowledged how Jersey City has been a hub of civil rights activism for centuries referencing the notable Vreeland Jackson brothers who were former slaves that purchased property in current day Greenville, Jersey City. Their property became a safe haven for runaway slaves escaping recapture via the Underground Railroad.
Dr. Eugene Cornacchia also attended the event and gave his remarks on the importance of valuing Black voices at SPU. He also announced that the school’s Board of Trustees have unanimously voted to adopt the university’s statement on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“It is important that we reaffirm that hatred, bigotry and racism run contrary to who we are as a Jesuit Catholic institution and will not be tolerated on our campus,” said Dr. Cornacchia.
Representatives from multiple student organizations also attended to offer words of support. These organzations included the Desi Club, The Latin American Service Organization, the Muslim Student Association, the Student Government Association, the Students for Peace and Justice (SPJ), the Black Action Committee, PRIDE and the History Club.
Karletnicol Pyron, President of SPJ, shared her own personal story of growing up with an internal “tug-of-war” between her Dominican and Black identities.
“I am an Afro-Latino. Using this term when describing my identity helps me visualize and claim both sides of me as one,” she said. “This black history month, I call on all of you to reflect on your relationship with your identity, and to celebrate our ancestors who came before us, who have guided us and helped us get to where we are now.”
The flag raising occurred in the form of a video which was filmed at last year’s in-person event of the Pan-African flag being raised in front of Dineen Hall.
At the end of the event, Dr. Joseph Legáspi, the University Director of Music, showcased a video of his cover with Loudjie Marie Theodore of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Often referred to as the “Black National Anthem,” the song’s lyrics were written by James Weldon Johnson, and its music was composed by J. Rosamond Johnson.
Although the flag raising was interrupted by some technical difficulties, the loss of sound being common, guests were very pleased with the event.
To conclude the event, Dr. Heyward stated, “Please continue to celebrate this month in whatever way feels good to you. Reading new books, learning about new folks who are important to this movement, especially our [Black] Trans and Queer community, and also making it a point to celebrate those stories to the fullest extent possible.”