NAACP President Ben Jealous speaks at Rutgers

The Africana Studies 40th Anniversary Celebration kicked off with a lecture and panel discussion featuring Mr. Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The event was a celebration of two milestones: In addition to marking the 40th anniversary of the Africana Studies Department at Rutgers (New Brunswick), 2009 also marked the 100 anniversary of the formation of the NAACP. The NAACP was a pivotal civil rights organization that waged a heroic campaign to chip away at the walls of segregation during the first half of the 20th century.  One of its most important victories was the overturning of the infamous Plessy v Ferguson decision in the historic Brown v Board of Education decision, which found the doctrine of “separate but equal” upheld by Plessy v Ferguson inherently unequal. In fact, Brown v Board of Education was the culmination of a series of legal battles waged by the NAACP which then created opportunities for the Modern Civil Rights Movement to advance the struggle and achieve tangible results. It was the momentum of these movements that resulted in the institutionalization of Africana/Black Studies departments throughout the country since the late 1960s.

Dr. Gayle T. Tate, Chairperson of the Department of Africana Studies, welcomed the participants and guests to the program, and discussed the significance of the 40th Anniversary of the Africana Studies Department at Rutgers. She then introduced Rutgers President Richard McCormick, who stressed the importance of the dual milestones being commemorated that evening. President McCormick introduced Reverend Bill Howard, Chairperson of the Rutgers University Board of Governors and long-time civil rights activist, to speak about the NAACP and introduce the evening’s speaker, Mr. Benjamin Todd Jealous.

Mr. Jealous was 35 five years old when he took over the leadership of the NAACP in 2008, becoming the organization’s youngest president. He has focused his energies on inspiring young people and getting them more involved in the organization. After highlighting some significant recent achievements of the NAACP, Mr. Jealous proceeded into his lecture, “Civil Rights in the Age of Obama,” in which he observed that the struggle for social justice is far from over, even with Barack Obama in office as the nation’s first Black president. The lecture was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Edward Ramsamy, Vice-Chairperson of the Department of Africana Studies. Dr. Ramsamy summarized the historical importance of the NAACP to national and international struggles for democracy and invited each of the panelists to comment on the lecture given by Mr. Jealous. The panelists were Mr. James E. Harris (President of the New Jersey Conference of the NAACP), Ms. Sharon Robinson-Briggs (Mayor of Plainfield), Mr. Theodore Carrington (Chairperson of the Environmental Justice Committee of New Jersey Chapter of the NAACP) and Ms. Nkechinyere Ugoji (a graduate of Africana Studies and Program Coordinator of TRIO Student Support Services at Rutgers). The panelists connected Mr. Jealous observations to specific civil rights challenges in New Jersey and commented on the implications for democratic struggles in the future.

The multipurpose room at the Student Center on College Avenue was filled to capacity, with overflow into other parts of the building. The enthusiastic audience, comprised of the Rutgers community as well as the wider public, had numerous questions for the speakers and discussions went on long after Mr. Jealous and the panelists left for the evening.