NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Rutgers officials have called for a joint meeting of its boards of governors and trustees Tuesday morning to install Jonathan Holloway as the first black president in the school’s 254-year history.
To many of the African American leaders in the school and across the city, the news was met with resounding approval.
That it came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a day set aside to honor the man who lived and ultimately died for extolling the virtues of unity and equality – made it even that much more special.
"I remember reading about it last night and I had the same feeling as when President Obama was elected, that same feeling of excitement,” said Keisha Drabowski, assistant vice chancellor in Rutgers’ Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. “For Rutgers, we've been grappling and dealing with our past, our connection to slavery, our not-so-perfect past. For me, this just brings it full circle.
“Just think about it: In 250 years, over 250 years of an institution of higher learning was built on an enslaved people's labor, on land taken away from the Lenape Native Americans. There has been no one with an identity other than a white male running this institution - and what that means. And I know with diversity, what that brings in people's experiences and background. What that's going to bring to the sense of leadership at the university. That lens that comes into the university that we're able to move to a different place that we are right now.”
Drabowski was attending the Martin Luther King Day Jr. celebration at Unity Square Community Center on Remsen Avenue on Monday with her son.
The space was packed with grade school children, college students, educators, community leaders and others celebrating the life of Dr. King.
King famously declared, “I have a dream,” and, so, several children at Unity Square made journals so they could write down their own dreams.
Perhaps their dreams now include to rise to the highest ranks in the arena of academia – like Holloway.
Holloway has served as a provost at Northwestern University since 2017. Before that, he was the first black dean at Yale. He is Alabama-born, Stanford-educated. He has been an athlete, an author, a family man, a scholar and so much more - a rich and versatile life not unlike the one lived by Paul Robeson, whose legacy was also honored at the Unity Square event.
A school official speaking on the condition of anonymity said he will attend Tuesday’s meeting when he is hired to replace Robert Barchi, who served as Rutgers president for eight years. Barchi announced in June that he would be stepping down at the end of the academic year in June.
Whether the timing of Holloway’s hiring is pure coincidence or carefully timed to tie in the Civil Rights Leader’s birthday celebration is not clear. What is unmistakable, however, is the excitement among African-American leaders in this community.
“My opinion is that it's a great thing, it's a beautiful thing,” said Derrick Braxton, a popular DJ and member of the city’s Rent Control Board. “It's something that I think everyone can get behind. Equality is one of those things Martin Luther King strove for and for it to happen on the cusp of this wonderful and glorious day where we celebrate Dr. King is a wonderful thing.”