Roses set in concrete stones lined tables in Old Union Hall on Monday, paying homage to Tupac Shakur’s poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” as the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) held their 50th annual Black History Month kickoff event.
The event, titled “Resilience: Achieving Black Excellence in All Aspects,” aimed to empower students to overcome their struggles and embrace diversity by celebrating achievements by black people in different industries. It featured keynote speaker Suezette Robotham, diversity, equity and inclusion program manager at Google.
Tanyah Barnes, associate director of the MRC, said the center invited Robotham to speak at the kickoff event because her experience in technology makes her relatable for students.
“Historically, our big speakers are celebrities, but how do you get students to feel pride when they can’t see themselves in that?” Barnes said. “With Suezette, students see what they can achieve in an industry other than entertainment, which is where most of them are going.”
Robotham discussed the challenges of entering the technology industry as a black woman and said she believes everyone ends up where they belong despite the obstacles that arise.
“I’ve never gotten the job that I applied for, but I’ve always ended up where I’m supposed to be,” Robotham said. “The thing that I learned is that, I’m not trying to be religious, but when you allow the higher order to be, you’ll always end up with every single wish you could dream of.”
She also encouraged students to take pride in their heritage and said although black voices often aren’t valued, they should be.
“In a world that is just now familiarizing itself with the dopeness of Wakandans and our vibranium magic, we’ve reveled on a daily basis since our first ancestors set foot on this planet,” Robotham said. “And yet, our voices are often the last to be sought out and heard. I have a confession, though — the world has never had the option to never hear my voice.”
The event also featured a backdrop of newspaper articles from the past 50 years, showcasing African Americans winning awards and accomplishing goals in the workforce. Jonah Liautaud, vice president of the BSU and a senior majoring in sociology, said the backdrop showcases the struggles African Americans had to overcome.
“It was never easy, but the people in these headlines helped pave a path that we need to keep carving,” Liautaud said.
Robotham said African Americans have historically used their voices to speak out against injustices and should continue to speak out to create change in society.
“One of the biggest risks you will take in this life is raising your voice in support of yourself and in support of what is right,” Robotham said. “As our next generation of leaders, you stand as representatives of thousands of people in our community with a variance of access to opportunity and power. It’s your responsibility to stand in the gaps and use your voices in support of all that is magic, is black.”
Andy Jean-Baptiste, Student Association vice president for multicultural affairs and a senior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, said he recognized the courage it took for Robotham to speak about the experience.
“It’s pretty fantastic, especially considering how she talked about speaking up and using her voice,” Jean-Baptiste said. “In society, the group that’s most suppressed is black women, so for her to go up and use her voice was fantastic.”
Like the roses in cement, Janiera Headley, president of BSU and a junior majoring in economics, said that the event successfully showcased how far African Americans have come through resilience.
“We like to relate it to us and how we grow from all our struggles,” Headley said. “We feel like it best symbolizes what we want to go into this month embracing, because we are all roses and this is a concrete jungle out here. We’re growing, we’re trying.”