West Windsor, N.J. – In addition to a variety of film showings and performances, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) celebrated Black history earlier this month with an open forum about the evolution of Black culture. Students, faculty and staff gathered for the panel discussion “Wisdom through the Ages” on Feb. 12, organized and moderated by Lucia Brown-Joseph, the college’s Bursar.
“The goal was to have people from every generation come and talk about what’s culturally relevant,” Brown-Joseph said. The panel incorporated voices that spanned the last eight decades.
Andretta Wright represented the 1940s and onward. An adjunct faculty member teaching African American Art, Wright was born and raised in Florida and later attended Michigan State University. Alvyn Haywood, MCCC professor of Communications and self-proclaimed baby boomer, represented the 1950s. Originally from Washington D.C. home, Haywood earned his Bachelor of Arts at St. Andrews College and his Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Diane Romulus, a staff member in Financial and Accounting Services, came of age in the 1980s. She was born in Puerto Rico, later relocating the U.S. Virgin Islands before coming to New Jersey. Lastly, Trenton native Yasmin Robinson, was the representative for millennials and is a counselor in Mercer’s Upward Bound program and native to Trenton.
In addition to the scheduled guests, MCCC student Henrietta Oghogho joined the panel. Currently studying Biology, Oghogho added her perspective of growing up in Generation Z.
Drawing from their diverse backgrounds, the panelists tackled questions ranging from the monolithic nature of Black culture to the formation of group mentalities. The group quickly opposed the notion of a singular Black identity, using their own experiences as a springboard for discussion.
“Coming to the U.S., I learned that people can get boxed into cultures that they don’t necessarily align with,” Romulus said. “In the Caribbean we are bound by a flag first and subcultures second.”
Oghogho echoed that sentiment, adding that the human tendency to adapt to their environments further diversifies the ways they identify themselves. “I choose who I hang out with based on symbiosis. I look for people who will be able to support me and vice-versa.”
Others mentioned the importance of family. Wright, who lived through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said that her family’s influence was the driving force in her adolescence. “When you know what your ancestors have gone through to attain equality, you quickly learn you have to do more,” she said.
The discussion also shifted to examine multigenerational trauma and the efforts to support the Black community. Students in the audience acknowledged the importance of education. “In addition to pushing students towards career advancement, school comes with the benefit of building a personal network that can reaffirm or modify cultural stigmas,” one student said.
Haywood ended the conversation with a call to action. “Start by brightening your corner of the world. It’s time we started to talk about what we have in common: our humanity.”
Black History Month at Mercer continues through the end of February. The public is invited to the closing ceremony on Feb. 28 at the James Kerney Campus at noon. Following the ceremony, visitors are invited to a screening of the 2018 Academy Award Winning superhero film Black Panther.