By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.
Last Thursday, a red carpet lead well-dressed alumni and students into the Frederick Douglass Unity House as if there was a star-studded movie premier. But while there was no film being shown, there were stars, as the night was a ceremony to reflect on the Unity House’s history and featuring keynote speeches from alumni Erik Andrade and Dr. Brian Rose.
Before the speech, Alumni got to catch up with each other over a dinner provided by Umass’s catering services.
After the dinner, Chancellor Robert Johnson delivered a speech referencing Frederick Douglass’s famous mantra “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Johnson first detailed his personal struggle of caring for his sick mom as a teenager by working odd jobs. He then addressed the students in the audience, saying, “as we come here to celebrate individuals who have struggled to create progress, to my young people I simply want to say,” he continued,
“Every time you see someone in this room, know they have a story. Don’t think any of us came out of our mother’s womb just like this.
There was hard work, failure. But here is my commitment to you. If you don’t give up, we won’t give up making a difference for you.”
After his speech, Unity House Associate Director Lasella Hall welcomed the first honoree Erik Andrade. The ‘09 Alum’s credentials range from poet, fashion designer, and motivational speaker, to TED Talk presenter, recording artist, and community activist.
He’s even shared the stage with the likes of activist Angela Davis and rapper Slick Rick, the latter of which he cited as the inspiration to start pursuing his dreams despite the hardships he faced. Bouncing off the Chancellor’s speech on struggle, Andrade shared a largely off-the-cuff speech about his struggle and the struggles that lie ahead.
He discussed how kids of color need role models in education, so they can see a path towards it themselves, using himself as an example. “After graduating this university, I realized the reason I went to college is because my brother went to college, and he went because my father did,” Andrade said,
“The reason that young folks didn’t know they could go to college is because they didn’t see themselves at college. So, we started working to bring young people up here, and I understood that parties would hook some people, so we did whatever we could to get people up here.”
An important step in doing this, Andrade added, was to not just increase enrollment of students of color, but faculty too, noting that
“In this inclusion of just student bodies we also have to look at the lack of faculty and what the curriculum looks like.”
After his speech, Dr. Bruce Rose went up to the podium. Rose’s professional career has been almost exclusively in public higher education administration, such as serving as Executive Director for Affirmative Action in Massachusetts and eventually serving as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Umass Dartmouth.
As assistant Vice Chancellor, Rose made sure never to turn his back on students of color. So, he co-chaired the African/African American Studies Conferences in 2002 and 2004, participated in My Brother’s Keeper, which mentors young men of color, and supported Unity House programs as well as other ventures.
His speech touched upon the progress the Unity House has seen since his days at Dartmouth, but also an urge to keep fighting for advancement. “Advocacy should never be left to one generation, it is a continual commitment,”
Rose spoke, “That’s why I implore you folks out there to ensure an enriching and empowering higher education for the students of Frederick Douglass Unity House as well as all other students of color.
Persistently advocate for a climate that will be conducive to the academic and social advancement and fulfillment for students of color.”
He finished by commending the Frederick Douglass Unity House for being “instrumental in helping mold refined students of color who lead this campus more socially and politically aware and better poised to become leaders and significant contributors in their community.
Dr. Rose finished his speech by saying that the Unity House “should be commended for the contributions it has made over the past twenty sum odd years.”
After hearing from Andrade, Rose, Chancellor Johnson, and seeing both Alumni and students of color together, it’s clear that Rose’s statement has never rung more true.
PHOTO COURTESY: KGARCIA PRODUCTIONS