PISCATAWAY, NJ—In collaboration with Galvanizing and Organizing Youth Activism (GOYA), a new Rutgers-based group called "Black Lives Matter" will be presenting, "The Black Experience at Rutgers: The Africana Department, Black Activism & Black Identity” on Friday, April 3.
The panel discussion will be held at the Busch Campus Center, starting at 5pm, and features civil rights activist Larry Hamm as the keynote speaker.
Hamm is the longtime Chairman of the Newark-based People's Organization for Progress, an "independent, grassroots, community based, politically progressive association of citizens working for racial, social and economic justice and greater unity in the community."
Following the separate grand jury decisions to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner respectively, Rutgers students have come together to combat racial oppression in the Hub City and beyond.
Leaders of a massive protest that took over Route 18 in December have coalesced to form the new on-campus group, named after the phrase that went viral throughout the latter half of 2014: “Black Lives Matter.”
“[It] is a coalition of students here at Rutgers University that is focused on bringing to light the social issues that surround, disenfranchise and that are problematic within the African American and Latino communities here in New Brunswick,” one of the group’s original members, Sean McJunkins II, said.
Spearheaded by McJunkins, along with Atiya Gilmore, Saskia Jabalon, and Anthony Riondino, this local group of about 23 members leaves no sub-group of oppressed people behind.
“What that means to us is disabled, transgendered, African American and everyone else who is apart of that diaspora,” McJunkins said, “We are focused on bringing their issues to light and seeking justice for the wrongs they’ve been done.”
The group also boasts a diverse membership.
“As an Italian American, we were only considered 'white' within the past few decades,” Riondino said, “I feel obligated to use my white privilege to empower those who are being oppressed for me to have that privilege in the first place.”
Run in a horizontal leadership style with no defined leader, the organization’s managerial staff of four has its eyes set on many different projects throughout Rutgers and the city of New Brunswick
Right now, the group's main objective is to protect the Rutgers Africana Studies Department, or as they put it, “save it.”
The “Save the Africana Initiative” is centered on the department and its flagship building, the Paul Robeson Cultural Center on the Busch Campus. According to the group, the building is "under attack" by Rutgers President Robert Barchi's Administration.
“[They] are not attacking it directly but the things they are doing are kinda red-taping it and closing it in,” McJunkins said, “We want to make sure that [the Africana Department] can grow. We don’t want to make it stagnant or destroy it, we want to build it up.”
Dr. Edward Ramsamy, Chairman of the Africana Department began his career at the department back in the early 90s as a part-time lecturer. He told New Brunswick Today that there are no existing tensions between his department and the administration, but things could be better.
“There hasn’t been any point of conflict with the administration since I’ve been chair,” he said, "With respect to the new administration at Rutgers, due to priorities, I’m not sure where Africana Studies fits on their radar screen. I would hope that they would want to continue to strengthen Africana Studies.”
Ramsamy, who took over as department chairman in July, believes that the current administration has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to match the previous administration of Rutgers President Richard McCormick, when it comes to supporting the university's minority studies departments.
“President McCormick reached out to us more directly in that we had much more contact with his office,” he said, “I don’t think there’s a faculty member within Africana studies that has personally met with Barchi as of yet.”
During a Town Hall meeting attended by President Barchi and New Brunswick Chancellor Richard Edwards in the fall, plans were revealed to create a new multicultural center to house all of the campus’ various minority center groups.
“This is idea is not to eliminate cultural centers, but,rather, to create a space where they can retain their individual character while having some spaces that can be shared such as meeting rooms and an auditorium or performance space,” Chancellor Edwards wrote via email.
Although the Chancellor said that the idea was still in its infancy, many have already formed their own opinions on the issue, including Dr. Ramsamy.
The Chairman is all for allocating departments like Latino Studies, Jewish Studies, Women Studies and his own department, a space to allow for students to congregate.
However, he does not want already existing centers, like that of the Paul Robeson Center, to be demolished to make way for a new one.
“I hope when they are talking about combining the centers it is [that the new center will be for extra space] and not destroying the rich history and legacy of these different centers, he said.
“Whatever they do, it is important for them to consult and get the views of the members who are served by the different cultural centers,” he added.
Black Lives Matter Rutgers also has a litany of other goals they plan to advocate for and organize around in the coming months, including voter registration and the creation of a citizens police review board.
The group also plans to host teach-ins at various places within the city to educate people on racial issues.
“From what I’ve seen and experience during protest or during actions, the reason most people don’t want to get involved is because of miscommunication and miseducation, It’s our job [to inform them],” McJunkins said.