Lift off to Black History Month with Airmen visit

By Jen Maldonado

Black History Month is breaking boundaries this year at Rider with various events planned throughout February on both campuses, including a visit from Tuskegee Airmen and a keynote address from Rev. DeForest B. Soaries, former New Jersey Secretary of State.

Veteran Tuskegee Airmen shared their World War II experiences with an audience of Rider students and faculty Thursday night.

The events kicked off with the showing of the film Tuskegee Airmen on Thursday. The airmen are World War II veterans who were among the first African American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces. A meet-and-greet event with a few of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen followed the showing.

“Black History Month has two purposes,” Donald Brown, director of multicultural affairs said. “It shares with the Rider community the cultural history centered on African Americans and informs the African American community, highlighting accomplishments of African Americans.”

Brown said the campus shows its gratitude to the men during their visit to campus.

“These men are simply fascinating,” Brown said. “We need to show our appreciation of what our war heroes did and acknowledge the struggle and challenges they went through for us and personally thank them.”

Jaffir Rice, co-advisor of the Black Student Union (BSU), an  organization that is sponsoring many of the events this month, said a lot can be learned from the Tuskegee Airmen’s stories and “hopes students will listen to the men who faced adversity on an immense scale and proudly fought for their country.”

Jarea Bivens, vice president of BSU, echoed Rice’s sentiments. He said the airmen are “living legends who are an inspiration to many people.”

This year, numerous people were involved in the planning, with “quality and diverse programming being offered on both campuses,” according to Rice.  The various events have something for everyone and include presentations, service opportunities and musical events.

Ida Tyson, co-advisor of BSU said it is important for students to be immersed in an environment that honors diversity.

Artwork depicting the Tuskegee Airmen and their fighter planes in World War II was showcased during their visit to Rider and the presentation of the film Tuskegee Airmen.

“Celebrating the positive contributions of other cultures makes Rider a community that embraces its entire student population,” Tyson said.

The program, “A Place Out of Time: The Bordentown School,” will be presented on the Westminster campus Tuesday and on the Lawrenceville campus Wednesday by Dr. Mildred Rice-Jordan, whose uncle started the Bordentown School, a school for colored men and women.

The MLK Day of Service will take place next Friday, since students were not on campus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to Brown.

“[The MLK Day of Service] is an opportunity for students to put into practical action everything they’ve done and heard all month,” Brown said.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, there will be a Midnight Run in which students will prep food and clothing to bring to the homeless in New York City, another chance for students to provide services.

Music is another aspect of Black history that Rider will be celebrating. The History of Hip-Hop took place on Feb. 8, providing a “contemporary historical interpretation of black music,” according to Brown.

“The Color of Music,” presentation on Thursday, Feb. 23 in the Yvonne Theater, will reflect on popular black music of the fifties, sixties and seventies and will be hosted by Charlie Geter, a Rider alumnus. On Monday, Feb. 27, the Gospel Fest will be held in the Cavalla Room, hosted by Reggie Walker, another Rider alumnus.

The month’s festivities will conclude on Tuesday, Feb. 28, with Rev. DeForest B. Soaries, who will give a speech in the Cavalla Room. Soaries has been involved with social justice issues for many years.

“He has a lot to say and is very intriguing. He has a very close connection with Rider,” Brown said.

Bivens said that Black history month provides a great opportunity for students to experience other cultures.

“Black history isn’t just for African Americans,” Bivens said. “It’s for everyone because it’s American history. Students will get a sense of this if they go the events. BSU’s goal is to observe our past, gain clarity on our present and shine a light on our future. Each of our programs this year falls in one, if not all, of those categories.”

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