Black History Month keynote speaker discusses controversial issues, social change

Students gathered in the Downing University Center auditorium Tuesday night to sit and listen to the annual keynote address for Black History Month, but passive observation was not the theme.

Guest speaker, published author, political commentator and BET host Jeff Johnson implored African American students to be active at WKU and be aware of what he considers societal mistakes in leadership.

“We evolve in the areas we give service to, and our sacrifices are rewarded,” he said. “Each of us has a call and a pulling, so it’s important to find what moves you.”

Johnson said student leadership among many college African American organizations is especially lacking.

“Student leaders are ineffective because they are not trained,” he said. “They are more focused on filling a title than they are on fulfilling a vision.”

Campus administrations, Johnson said, are also roadblocks to African American progress at many universities.

“None of these administrations are here to be your friends,” he said.

Challenging administrations is not all talk for Johnson, who, during his college years at the University of Toledo, led 800 students to the president’s house to protest what they considered an unjust policy.

Johnson also discussed tough issues, like the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, an appointed neighborhood watch coordinator, while walking home with a bag of Skittles and iced tea because he looked “suspicious.”

“Even now, the family of Trayvon Martin are in New York City commemorating if you will, one year since his murder,” he said. “It’s interesting because there are so many people over the last 12 hours that I’ve heard tweeting, retweeting and Facebooking about Trayvon, that since George Zimmerman was apprehended, had not talked about stand your ground, have not talked about murder, have not talked about social justice at all.”

Johnson said in many cases, these people are social media band wagoners, not individuals who are truly concerned. He said it isn’t just about one young man that lost his life, but a broader system and how things need to be addressed and changed.

He also discussed rapper Lil Wayne and his controversial rap lyrics referencing the late Emmett Till.

“I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t confused,” he said. “At no point did he say that he was a historian, at no point did he say that he had a level of responsibility to accurately display historical moments within the diaspora for the purpose of being able to uplift his audience.”

Although Johnson doesn’t hold back from these controversial subjects, students like Indianapolis freshmen JaLin Carter were impressed with his lecture.

“He’s wonderful,” she said. “It makes more sense to get more involved in the black community.”

Manhattan, N.Y., freshman Eddie Alcantara felt that Johnson delivered a strong speech, but failed to get into the nuts and bolts of real issues.

“He did a great job of providing us with a broad view of what’s going on, but it would have helped if he told us how to change the problems,” he said.

However, Lynne Holland, an African American Studies professor, said the purpose of Johnson’s address wasn’t to answer those questions.

“He presented people with the change, but it’s up to us here at WKU to carry his message on to the next step,” she said.

For more on this story, check out Friday’s edition of the College Heights Herald.