By Alyssa Vera
About 150 students applauded in a standing ovation after Dr. Boyce Watkins presented his speech on “A New Paradigm for Black America,” at the Grant Campus on Thursday, Feb. 27. Watkins, considered one of the country’s most valued public figures, was invited by the Multicultural Affairs to speak in a series of conversations regarding black male empowerment, and the actions that must be taken to push youth towards greatness in today’s society.
“Greatness is something that starts with a decision to be great,” he said; a quote that Liberal Arts major and APA (African People’s Assoc.) member, Ceida Allen was in favor of. “If you want to be a great leader, then you lead a little harder than everybody else,” Watkins said. Liberal Arts major, Jeffrey Clinton, age 19, claimed to be “very inspired” when the topic of leadership was brought to the table.
Watkins recited lyrics from Lil Wayne’s song “Steady Mobbin,” to illustrate that hip-hop artists are not doing anything to raise great leaders within the black community. The severity of the situation was explained when Watkins stated that violence continues to be celebrated in hip-hop culture, despite the fact that black men are seen as the top victims of handgun violence in America. “When you deeply analyze the pathways of life that are being consistently reinforced in music, not one of the messages leads to an empowered life,” he said.
Students were informed that lessons are taught as a result of repetition and recitation; two components frequently found in music. “Those lyrics played over a melodic beat open up the sub-conscious so it sinks so deep into someone’s being, that they don’t even know it’s there,” he said. Watkins encouraged students in the audience to think about the lessons that are being taught behind music because someone, somewhere is being influenced. “You cannot pretend that people do not get affected by this,” said Watkins.
When asked about his perspective on the influence of hip-hop culture, Physical Therapy major, Giovanni Blanco, age 21 said, “Most of us tend to listen to music for entertainment purposes. We don’t really think about the effect it will have on our lives afterwards but some people really do go above and beyond; so far as to dress like the artist and do the things they do. I don’t think the hip-hop industry has pushed our generation towards greatness at all.”
Watkins flailed his arms and slammed the podium, emphasizing that greatness is not accomplished through the use of drugs and alcohol, nor is it something that we are freely given at birth. However, “it is a day to day, minute to minute, hour to hour commitment to always move above and beyond in everything we do,” he said.
This is a lesson that Physics major, Amenhotep Ventura, age 19, was able to carry out after the speech came to an end. “Don’t settle for the mediocre. That is the most valuable piece of advice I can take home with me tonight,” Ventura said.
Although Watkins empowered students to reach the highest level of greatness possible, he did not ignore the idea that there would be failure along the way. “If you look at failure as your excuse to quit, and as a validation that you’re not worthy of what you’re trying to get to, then you’ll never get it,” said Watkins. He used President Barrack Obama as an example to explain that failure is essential in shaping a journey of greatness, even in the lives of the most important and powerful icons and figureheads.
Watkins empowered students to redefine failure as a “stepping stone,” instead of a victory lost. “Failure is God’s training camp for you,” he said.
Physical Therapy major, Giovanni Blanco, 21, said, “I’ve let failure bring me down so many times. I still struggle with that, but this message is something that I needed to hear. I guess failure could be a good thing and maybe it can actually help me grow.”
Students were reminded that if a person has the desire to achieve a goal, then failure is not an option. Watkins added that obstacles must be fought rather than tolerated. “If you want it bad enough, you go back and you re-toil, re-think and then try again, and then if that doesn’t work, you try again,” he said.
“To overcome failure,” said Liberal Arts major Ceida Allen, “we must continue to do what we do. Study, try to get programs where we can enlighten people, and refuse to accept the unacceptable,” she said.
Students like Allen, Ventura, and Clinton claim to be proud members of the African People’s Association (a denomination of the Multicultural Affairs), where “The history and culture of African People is celebrated,” Clinton said. The APA also aims to empower the people in ways that society; and hip-hop music for instance, cannot. “It doesn’t matter how many members we have. The same faces come, we always enjoy new faces, and a few disappear, but we know that they are all empowered through our club,” Clinton said.
The African People’s Association will be having their next meeting on Wednesday at 11:00am during common hour. Meetings are held in room three of the Nesconset building at the Grant Campus. For more information, contact Norman Daniels, head of the Multicultural Affairs, at 631-851-6341.