By Rachel Stengel and Katie Zeck
In light of recent events concerning the death of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, it seems the upcoming Unity Days at Rider could not have come at a more appropriate time. What started out as a response to a racist hazing incident that occurred in one of the fraternities has now become a yearly tradition of promoting unity and community at Rider.
“In terms of this year’s celebration, what we wanted to do was take a backward-look at those 50 years of social progress,” stated Donald Brown, director of Rider’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The four-day event runs Monday through Thursday. Brown expressed great excitement over what Unity Days has to offer this year, specifically in regards to the keynote speaker, Harry Belafonte.
“[Belafonte] was active in the Civil Rights Movement, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN, and has produced films and music to address those issues [of social equality] as well,” Brown said.
Belafonte, well known for being the singer of the “Banana Boat Song,” has been an active advocate of civil and human rights since the early 1950s.
Belafonte used his celebrity status as a way to promote awareness of the racial discrimination that was occurring in the southern part of the United States. From this, he was appointed cultural advisor to the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy. Belafonte later went on to become an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Belafonte organized marches and protests, endorsed voter registration drives and raised money for Freedom Rides, an activist group that would ride interstate buses into segregated towns.
Beyond the Civil Rights Movement, Belafonte continued to be involved in humanitarian issues including the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
Brown and faculty chair of Unity Days, Dr. Hazel-Anne M. Johnson, are pleased with the wide spectrum of topics Unity Days will cover.
“One of the things I’m really excited about is the opportunity to explore new topics that are, in my opinion, extremely relevant but we don’t tend to notice,” Johnson said.
The four-day event kicks off Monday with National Coming Out Day, which has increased meaning this year.
Brown confirmed the importance and vitality of Monday’s events.
“I think that there is no time other than now to make sure we get that information out there,” Brown said.
The schedule of activities continues with games, entertainment, live music, poetry, comedy and a variety of workshops focused on the idea of social change.
Brown explained that the real theme of Unity Days is always community.
“If you really want to talk about unity we are talking about all the parts that make up our community,” he said.
Student chair Samantha Gallo gave additional perspective on the goals of Unity Days.
“You tend to be one minded, but Unity Day is a way to branch out and realize that we are one community.”