Speaker at Black Issues Conference highlights role of activism in shaping politics

A picture of activist Rosa Clemente speaking to an audience at a podium at Bowling Green State University.

More than 300 people attended the 17th annual Black Issues Conference keynote luncheon to hear hip-hop activist and 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente speak on Saturday.

Clemente spoke at the University this weekend as part of her “If I Was President” Tour.

Before stepping onstage, student Ashli Ericka Hunter introduced her.

“Rosa has spent her life dedicated to scholarly activism,” Hunter said.

In 2001, she published an article in the Chicago newspaper, Final Call, called “Who is Black?” which sparked discussion about cultural identity, political identity and racial identity.

Both Clemente and Hunter identify as Afro-Latino, a term used to describe people who identify with both African and Latino heritages.

“’I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am black,’” Hunter quoted from Clemente’s article.

Following her introduction, Rosa Clemente took the podium and read the article in its entirety.

“Being Latino is not a cultural identity, but … a political one,” she said to the audience. “Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but … a cultural and national one … Being black is my racial identity.”

Clemente brought up a lot of issues affecting both Latino and black communities, including education.

She discussed how power of protest helped in getting people of color into colleges and universities in order to have the same educational opportunities as their white peers.

“We changed these institutions,” she said. “Why did we get in here? Because of protest. Not because of Civil Rights legislation, because of the Black Power Movement.”

She also called out the public education system for only having students focus on standardized testing and not helping them prepare for college.

“No Child Left Behind Act destroyed public education and critical thinking,” she said.

She connected this with the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which refers to policies that push schoolchildren (often of color) into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

“We have young people graduating with records. Ninety percent are African-American and Latino students,” she said.

Clemente also shared her story of going to college and being open to new information about both her identities.

“When I went through school, I was going through moments of a lot anger,” she said. “Like, wait a minute — why was all this kept from me? Why didn’t my parents tell me this?”

She said it was through her studies that she became an activist.

“It’s usually something that sparks you to become an organizer, an activist. I became an activist and a scholar through my college experience. I became an organizer when I moved back to New York, started teaching, left … and I joined the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.”

Clemente closed her speech by encouraging the audience to be aware of who they’re voting for when they go into the booths.

“Be radical in this movement around black lives,” she said. “We don’t have time anymore for games.”

The article has been updated by the original author.

This article was originally printed on March 1, 2015 in the independent student publication, The BG News, which can be found here.

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Dinner celebrates Black History Month

The Office of Residence Life Students of Color Mentoring, Aiding, Retaining and Teaching, or SMART, program hosted its annual Taste of February event Friday night in 101 Olscamp Hall.

The theme this year was “Our Untold Stories,” which touched on different and less discussed aspects of Black History.

Diversity and Retention Initiatives Coordinator Ana Brown welcomed attendees at the start of the event before releasing them to dinner, provided by Dining Services’ catering.

The dinner was inspired by the mix of cultures and people found in the southern city of New Orleans, including crab beignets, hush puppies and shrimp and grits.

Following dinner, students who are part of the SMART program presented five separate presentations, highlighting various parts of Black History.

“Untold Stories of Black Hollywood” highlighted black actors, writers and directors.

The next group played a trivia game with the attendees in their presentation titled “The Evolution of Black Women,” which included prominent black women from the 60s to the present day.

“Untold Stories of Political Activists” highlighted important people and places in black activism such as speakeasies and Black Wall Street.

To keep with the importance of representation, a presentation called “Afro-Latinos” talked about people who are of both African and Latino heritages. They discussed the black populations of Latin America and the issues they face having a dual identity.

“History in Music” featured various songs from over the years that expressed the trials and tribulations that the black community has faced. Artists mentioned included Marvin Gaye, James Brown, N.W.A. and Kendrick Lamar.

Brown closed the ceremony with a thank you to both attendees and to students, who she said had been working since October on the presentations featured.

For SMART Team Leader Jessica Wells, this was her third year participating in Taste of February.

“It took us months to get it together,” Wells said. “We wanted to make sure every identity was represented. There’s so many times in our classes and the world where underrepresented people are often tossed to the side.”

She called the importance of representing other identities in the presentation “pivotal” to make sure that it was part of the program.

As a senior, this is her last year participating in the event and she called the feeling of it being her last one, “surreal.”

“I really am proud of the staff that I was able to be a part of and it was just a real nice event,” Wells said.

The article has been updated by the original author.
This article was originally published on Feb. 9, 2016 in the independent student publication, The BG News, which can be found here.