PATERSON, NJ - Rosa Parks High School has always known how to commemorate special events and end them on a good note. Through the harmonies of the vocal ensemble, the choreography of the dance department, and the drama productions of the thespians, RPHS has a proud history of putting the finishing touch on a beautiful project. To conclude the month long celebration of Black History Month, RPHS hosted a panel that featured three state leaders as the speakers on Wednesday.

According to RPHS Principal Jalyn E. Lyde, she was eager to allow the prominent women to hold the question and answer panel in the Lou Costello theater for students to participate in a discussion on current issues, possible plans of action, and the big ideas for the future of Paterson Public schools. With Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, Secretary of State Tahesha Way, Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis, and New Jersey State Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly as guest speakers, students were able to hear firsthand from each leader as well as communicate with them on possible ideas to improve classroom learning and share concerns about local schools.

The times we share in celebration of the accomplishments of African American leaders are of great significance Superintendent Eileen Shafer told the audience. “The quote ‘remember from when we came-this far and further’ could not be more appropriate,” she said. “It is a challenge that encourages us to continue in this world. We must continue to persevere and remember the people who fought for racial equality and American freedom.”

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Oliver said that she celebrates how far African Americans have gotten as lieutenant governor and serves “understanding that for so long people from African American communities didn’t have access to these privileges given in society,” she offered. “I am able to cut through the bureaucracy. I have an obligation to make sure there are opportunities in the government for people of color.”

“I must not focus on the destiny but focus on the journey.”

“Black History Month means living in the moment to make an impact as the person you are,” Way told the students. “Both of my parents always told me that whatever I do with my life, be present. No matter what you decide to do, take where you came from with you.”

For Ellis, celebrating Black History Month means  remembering the strength that was given to her from her ancestors, encouragement, she said, to keep going as time becomes more complex. “Our ancestors are strong, we remember the blood that goes through our veins are from the people who were strong,” said Ellis. “It makes us remember the people who have gone through so much to get us to where we are today. Through the hard times, we must keep showing up and put one foot in front of the other to do more than what we could ever imagine.”

“It’s a great day seeing my former summer campers take on big roles,” Wimberly, who also serves as Parterson’s Director of Recreation, said sharing his excitement to be able to unite the students and RPHS, with the leaders that were there to speak. “It’s a great day seeing our women take charge. It’s inspirational to see the groups of students here as these women are the reason we are here.” Their presence, he concluded, will allow for all involved to be empowered, encouraged, and engaged.

Rochelle Estrada 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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