Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver Tells MCCC Students to Use History as a Guide to Shape the Future During Black History Month Address 


WEST WINDSOR – New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver encouraged Mercer County Community College (MCCC) students to remember the past while always looking toward the future in delivering the keynote address during Black History Month closing ceremonies at the college’s West Windsor Campus.

“I’m a Baby Boomer, so I grew up in an era of time when we really knew nothing about the history of African Americans,” Oliver said. “Growing up in the Baby Boomer era, for people of color people like me, we now call ourselves African Americans. But it took us all those years to figure out how we should define ourselves.”

Oliver’s address was the final event in a month-long celebration of Black History Month at MCCC, a month that included an international fashion show, opening ceremonies at MCCC’s James Kerney Campus in Trenton, a “Celebration of Song and Dance” at Kelsey Theatre, and numerous panel discussions and community-based activities. Closing ceremonies included an African drumming performance, and a multi-cultural luncheon.

Lucia Brown-Joseph, chair of MCCC’s Black History Month Committee, noted that this year’s theme, “20/20 Vision: Destination vs. Reality,” builds on the concept of each of us honoring the past as we chart our destiny.

“You know there is a song, ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’ How many of you can see clearly into the future?” Brown-Joseph asked, then added, “We can all see clearly if we open our eyes.”

Oliver used that opening to set the stage for examining today’s society through the lens of history, starting in 1619 – the year the first African slaves were brought to North America. It was the labor of those enslaved individuals, she said, that built this nation through toil and suffering, which can be a source of pride and something that should never be forgotten.

“I often tell students, particularly African American students, that they can be proud, because they are the descendants of people who built this country,” Oliver said.

Oliver noted the contributions of enslaved African Americans through the 1700s and until emancipation in the 1800s, but said the challenges did not end there, with the fight for voting rights and civil rights that followed. And while progress has been made, she said, work remains, which is an important reason to observe Black History Month each year.

“When it comes to African American History Month, these are the things I think about: I think about the history of those who came centuries before, I think about the struggles, I think about the social progress that has been made,” Oliver said. “I think it is important for us to continue to observe February as African American History Month, but if you are African American, you should celebrate it 365 days a year.”

In closing the ceremony, MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang echoed much of the sentiment expressed by Oliver, noting that the ability to receive an affordable, quality education and to be judged by one’s ability and character are just a few of the freedoms denied to previous generations.

““The struggle continues today,” Wang said. “Our past struggles are a history to cherish, for they give us inspiration to move forward. They tell us we have come a long way, but we have a long way ahead of us. Together, we can make a difference.”

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MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang (right) thanks New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver following her keynote address at the Black History Month closing ceremonies at Mercer County Community College.