Black History Month Message

By Lezli Baskerville, Esquire, President & CEO
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education &
Douglass College, Rutgers University Distinguished Alumna

RE: Student Movement Messages Suggested by Rutgers University Hiring
Dr. Jonathan Holloway, First Black RU President

Paul Robeson, the first African American football player at Rutgers University, a renowned scholar, actor, orator, bass baritone concert artist, stage and film actor, and global activist, who graduated from RU 101 years ago, is walking around heaven today singing, “It [took] a Long Pull to Get There” with a smile on his face as Rutgers University named its first Black President.

Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor–who served as President of Virginia Union and North Carolina A&T Universities, (HBCUs), Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York, a member of the Rutgers University faculty for 15 years, including as the first incumbent of the Martin Luther King Jr, Chair in the Graduate School of Education, who later became the first faculty member of both GRE and the University to have an endowed professorship named for him– is preaching to the Heavenly Saints about Dr. Jonathan Holloway, the first Black President of Rutgers University, as the substance of things hoped for—evidence of Dr. Proctor’s unfaltering faith that one day, the Flagship University of the Garden State, a state with 9 million residents, 32% of whom are underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, would have a distinguished president who would also be a man of color.

Lezli Baskerville, President & CEO of NAFEO, a Douglass College, Rutgers University distinguished alumna, inducted into the Douglass Society, in recognition of her unstinting commitment to improving the quality of life of vulnerable populations, said, “this is a great day for Rutgers University, the students and families of the State, and a great day for me, personally. I am excited about the appointment of Dr. Jonathan Hollaway, an eminent scholar and education administrator, as the first Black President of Rutgers University. I look forward to welcoming him into the NAFEO fold, as an African American President of an American equal educational opportunity university. I will let him know that I believe I played a small part in his selection as President of alma mater.

“As a Rutgers scholar-activist and President of the Douglass Black Student Congress– more than a few years ago– I forced the suspension of food services in the Douglass College dining hall and the suspension of a Rutgers University basketball game during the best men’s basketball season in the history of the University, that yielded four players who went on to play in the NBA, five players who were All-Americans, and six players and the team coach were inducted into the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame. I did this to draw attention to the woeful underrepresentation of black and brown tenured professors on the faculty, and negligible administrators of color, at Rutgers during that time. I did it after trying all of the usual primary, secondary and tertiary means of engagement of that era. I then decided to walk onto the basketball court during half time with more than a few of my comrades, and sit in the middle of the court until Rutgers was forced to forfeit the game. One immediate outcome of our protests, was my being invited by then President Bloustein to sit on the President’s Selection Committee for a new Douglass Dean. With the unswerving support of a 15- year-old student activist, the Committee selected an eminent scientist, Dr. Jewel Plumber Cobb as the first Black Dean of Douglass College. Dr. Cobb was a renowned Cancer researcher, a cell-biologist, who received her B.A. in biology at Talladega College, an HBCU, later discovered that melanin protected against skin damage. The National Academy of Sciences awarded Dr. Cobb its 1993 Lifetime Achievement Award for her work promoting the sciences as a career field for youth of color. The appointment of Dr. Holloway as President, is evidence both that, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” as Dr. King taught, and also that with creative and affirmative patience and persistence, along with affirmative disruption, and the right people in the right places (Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis and others), change will come. Great lessons for the students of today. Congratulations Dr. Holloway. Congratulations Alma Mata!”