African-American students recognized

By Chris Johnson

Rollin Wilkerson, student representative for the Ujima Project, spoke on his personal trials and the strength he found through Ujima. (Erin Hudson)

By Chris Johnson

A group of successfully transferring Riverside City College students was recognized May 22, for the obstacles they faced in getting where they are now.

The Fouth Annual African American Student Recognition Celebration recognized Black students who were graduating or transferring.

“Basically, anyone who’s leaving RCC successfully,” said Rollin Wilkerson, representative for the Ujima Project.

Keynote speaker Wolde-Ab Issac said recognizing these students is important.

“They represent a category of the population that needs our support,” he said, “and we do that by recognizing their sons and daughters.”

This group of students faced obstacles, Issac said, that merit recognition. “There are many hurdles,” he said. “We have a responsibility of recognizing them.”

He called the deprivation of education one of the world’s great injustices, next to poverty and disease.

“Over 1 billion people enter the 21st century unable to read or write,” he said.

Edward Bush, vice president of student services, welcomed the students.

He urged them to think back to the struggles of those that came before them.

“In the African tradition, we always acknowledge our ancestors, because we realize that they worked, sacrificed, for what we have here today,” he said during his speech.

Bush reminded students of the hardships African slaves had to face.

“I often think about how they were able to endure what they had to go through,” he said. “They must have imagined that things was not always going to be this way…they must have had some dreams that was able to sustain them.”

Members of the audience voiced their assent as he went on. “You are the representatives of their hopes and dreams,” he said. “You are that legacy… so walk in the excellence and legacy of your ancestors.”

Following Bush’s speech, Don Wilcoxson, coordinator of the Ujima Project, recognized representatives of the Ujima Project, the Renaissance Scholars Program, and the Talented Tenth Program.

“We are really blessed to have students who are dedicated to your success,” Wilcoxson said.

Wilkerson said Wilcoxson has helped students through difficult times.

“Just how he takes you in, the view of that role model provides a path for you to follow,” he said. “That’s the most instrumental thing.”

Speakers from all three groups took the podium to relate their experiences with their respective groups.

Keith Turner, representing the Scholars Program at Moreno Valley Campus, related events from his experience and what they meant.

La Leeka Brown, representing the Talented Tenth at Norco Campus, told a personal story about having difficulty in math, and the importance of taking responsibility for her own education.

“We all have struggles, we all have issues, we all have things to go through,” she said.

Wilkerson spoke next, representing Riverside Campus’s Ujima Project.

He spoke regarding the obstacles that he faced.

“Anybody can do it alone, but together it’s much easier,” he said. “When you have these teachers, and they’re smiling at you… it just makes you feel great… they keep pushing you.”

Wilkerson had said earlier that the Ujima Project had provided him with the leadership necessary to succeed.

“The most important thing for me is the mentorship,” he said.

Turner agreed that leadership was vital for success.

“The biggest obstacles are the fact that there aren’t enough leaders,” Turner said.

“And the reason there aren’t enough leaders is that students like us don’t step up.”

Even students who weren’t involved with the groups that sponsored the event said that leadership had been important to them.

For transferring student Treyvon Williams, it was his coach, John Smith.

“He showed me to take the right classes, taught how important it was to do well in school,” Williams said.

Williams also had help from James Banks, the advisor for the Scholars Program, after having him as a teacher.

“He was a great mentor, always challenged me to be my very best, and never be mediocre,” Willaims said.

Banks said that faith was the biggest obstacle students faced.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will,” he said.

Following the speeches, the students honored were each given a carnation.

Students were urged to give it immediately to someone who had helped them succeed.

Williams gave his carnation to his mother, Marsha Shirley.

“It’s very inspiring,” Shirley said, “Because I know how determined my son has been.

It’s been a process, a struggle, but he never gave up, he worked hard towards his goals.”