PATERSON, NJ - Black History Month is a cultural phenomenon that is celebrated by people all over the world. For Rosa L. Parks School of Fine and Performing Arts, it means a time to come together and reflect on how far we’ve come. This year, three very important women of color spared their time to answer questions and share advice with students in a panel discussion, with Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly as the moderator.

“I welcome everyone to this important celebration,” Superintendent Eileen Shafer said to open the event. “I am grateful that these three powerful women are here to speak with these students. The theme, ‘remembering from whence we came this far and further,’ really encompasses what Black History Month means to all of us.”

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, born and raised in Newark, took questions from students and shared her personal stories of success and what students need to do to reach their full potential.

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“I love how the school has evolved and expanded,” she said. Following this, she urged students to appreciate their educational journey and enjoy every moment of it, because, she said, these precious moments will never return.

Her path to politics started very early in her life, Oliver reflected, describing herself as a helper, especially to people who aren’t being treated right, leading her on a path as a community activist throughout high school and college. Her inspirational motto embodies the message that it is more important to focus on the journey, not the destination. “It’s a big world. Do not be afraid to go out, because there is so much opportunity for you. Don’t be afraid to jump out there and pursue whatever you want.”

Secretary of State Tahesha Way spoke about her own journey and motivated students to ¨Be present, no matter what you do in life.”

“It all relates to ancestry,” Way explained.  “Understanding who you are, and always taking what others have done for you with you throughout life is the essence of what Black History Month means. No matter what you decide to do, always remember where you came from.”

Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis, New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education, also graced students with very wise words, inspiring them to keep pushing and working hard.

“The blood in our veins is the blood of strong people that came before us. That is how you persevere,” Ellis said. “Education is your power. If you don’t have an education, you are very likely to get left behind.” Because she wants to see students develop into the best version of themselves through education, affordability remains a top priority for her.

During the special ceremony, two exemplary students, both seniors, were also recognized: Taniesha Gilbert, who exhibited outstanding academic success, and scored over 1,000 points for the Kennedy Lady Knights, and Khadija Moody, who earned the distinction of being named as a finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award this year, and was honored by the state for her volunteer service.

¨Rosa Parks isn’t just a great school in Paterson, it’s one of the better schools in the country, and the perfect place to host an event like this,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. ¨It was great for these students at Rosa Parks to hear from this panel of successful women, and to hear what they had to say about themselves, their journey, and the significance of Black History month.”


Iyana Williams is a junior at Rosa Park High School of Fine and Performing Arts and a member of the TAPinto Paterson internship program.


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