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EDITORIAL: Black history needs attention year round, not only in February

Celebrating Black history needs to be an ongoing, continuous process that is year-round

The fight for racial justice requires full-year commitments that cannot be confined into a single month or movement.  – Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

This past week, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced that he would be nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. It is a historic moment that also aligns with Black History Month. Jackson’s nomination cannot be understated — her rise to the bench will inspire generations to come.

The nomination of Jackson is a crucial step and underlines a commitment to not only diversifying the judiciary, but to also reforming the criminal justice system. Still, her nomination alone does not go far enough, just as a single month for Black history is not enough.

We need to move away from these singular examples of diversity and instead focus on building a culture that respects and uplifts every community member. More must be done to ensure our country, our communities and our schools work toward justice and making places as inclusive as possible.

Rutgers, for example, often celebrates its diversity. And while we recognize and support that diversity, there is a fine line between celebrating diversity and tokenizing it. Paul Robeson, for example, is a great man and a preeminent figure in history.

We should celebrate him and his legacy, but it seems that the University sometimes is too dependent on Robeson and they overlook other and more local, current Black figures in the community. 

But we must also celebrate and uplift all people — including Black women, Black LGBTQ+ folks and especially Black transgender women — this month and every month. All history must be intersectional, or it leaves out important stories.

One example is Dave Harris, a giant of the New Brunswick community who recently died after a lengthy career advocating and fighting for the children of New Brunswick. A graduate of Rutgers, Harris served on both the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors.

Harris' legacy should be celebrated by Rutgers. Not only due to his accomplishments but also because of his lasting commitment to the New Brunswick community, and Rutgers should prioritize connecting with the larger New Brunswick community as a whole.

One avenue to accomplish this goal would be for the University to support or even work with Hidden Gems Literary Emporium, a Black-owned non-profit bookstore focused on literacy, community, accessibility and affordability. 

This bookstore is right in New Brunswick. They are focused on the community and making education as accessible as possible. This bookstore is the epitome of accessibility, and it is something that every Rutgers student should know of and be proud of.

Hidden Gems already partners with University groups as they routinely come to Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective and distribute free books. The University should look into how to run programs with Hidden Gems and increase their presence on campus — whether that be partnering with them for certain course texts or finding the means to give them a greater platform.

In working with Hidden Gems, the University will highlight both its commitment to the New Brunswick community while also underscoring that they are invested in supporting Black community members doing important work on the ground today.

Beyond that element, the University should also be sure to dedicate resources to ethnic studies departments that increase students’ awareness and cultural competencies.

Africana studies, Asian studies and Latin and Caribbean studies, for example, must get broad and increased support from the University to allow for wide-reaching curriculums and other efforts to attract and retain a robust student population.

These curricular programs would begin to create a culture at the University where Black History Month is not confined to simply one month. Rutgers can — and should — be the place where we continually learn about Black history and where we continually grapple with our history. The work of remembering, honoring and learning cannot be confined to one month.

In addition to these areas, we can support clubs that uplift community members and center them. The Rutgers United Black Council, for example, holds events and forums with University administrators that center diversity and make the Rutgers community stronger.

This work requires time and investment from everyone. If we are true about our intentions to make the community more inclusive, these steps are only the beginnings.

These stances and actions are needed to move forward in creating a more just society. Yet while the bulk of this change must come from institutions and structures of power, we all individually have a duty to promote these causes.

The Daily Targum’s editorial board also understands our own need to remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Many organizations at Rutgers, including the Targum, are due for a critical re-examination so as to make them more inclusive.

To create a better world, we all need to make strides in ensuring that all spaces are open to everyone.

We all must remain mindful of what is happening, take responsibility and commit ourselves to making the country live up to its ideals of equity.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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