On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, Leadership Newark fellow Dr. Margaret Stevens (Class of 2016) led a discussion at New Jersey City University (NJCU) on the evolution of Black power in the 21st century. The program, titled “Black Lives, Black Power” tackled the critical issues around the commonly used phrase of “Black Power”. Stevens gathered all attendees on a ride down history lane to show that the coined phrase was more than a slogan, as Wikipedia referred to it, and more of a mindset to get to the root of oppression.
The discussion began with an introduction by NJCU’s Lee Hagan Africana Studies Center Director, Dr. Antoinette Ellis-Williams asking the audience to begin thinking about what exactly the term “Black Power” meant to them. Stevens immediately followed it, sharing an extensive presentation with clips featuring Jamaican elder speaking languages of African ancestors that were shipped to the West Indies.
The elder shared and represented the history of Jamaican Maroons, who created their own independent communities during periods of enslavement far from where their slave masters could capture them and bring them back to life of bondage. Stevens shared that many groups similar to the Maroons formed their independent truces with former slave masters and subsequently created their own treaties, laws, and rules. “If you really take a look, you will see that radicalism of Black power didn’t just begin in the 1960s; it derives from the root of these small communities like that in Jamaica,” said Stevens. Radicalism, Stevens said, has the root word radical, within it and it means “going to the root of origin.” These communities emerged to counteract oppression, be free, and to be treated as human beings.
This discussion was concluded by Dr. Ellis-Williams and Dr. Stevens, who urged all attendees to use their resources to keep the legacy behind black power alive to ensure black lives matter. “All of us here today, are in a privileged space,” said Ellis-Williams. “And we should not feel guilty about it. Instead, we should use the resources we have to create change.” Currently an associate professor at Essex County College and Director of the college’s Urban Issues Institute, Stevens is working on compiling the official biography of Newark’s first African-American mayor, Kenneth Gibson. Bravo Dr. Stevens for a discussion well done!