Betsy DeVos wrong choice for Bethune-Cookman graduation

Roger Caldwell
Roger Caldwell

Betsy DeVos wrong choice for Bethune-Cookman graduation

By Roger Caldwell

      Racism and White Supremacy are two topics that are not publicly exposed and discussed in America in 2017 because many Black leaders are in denial that these problems still exist. The significance of courage at HBCUs and telling our students the truth will build character and integrity.

In 2017, Black Americans as well as the general population are having spiritual, mental, and economic warfare within their souls. With an epidemic of Black on Black violence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions telling members in his department to increase sentences for drug offenders, he is bringing back the drug wars of the 1990’s. Drug wars put more Blacks and people of color in jail that only possessed small amounts of drugs, and were mostly non-violent crimes.

Bethune Cookman students, alumni, friends, families, and Black organizations hand delivered to the University’s President, Edison Jackson’s office 50,000 signed petitions rejecting Betsy DeVos as the commencement speaker at their 2017 graduation.

Parts of the petition read “Having DeVos speak at the commencement ceremony is an insult to the BCU graduating class, students, alumni, family, friends, and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy. We, the proud alumni of Bethune-Cookman University, do not want Betsy DeVos to have a seat at our table. Please rescind her invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony.”

The answer to the students and Black community’s request from the president and Board of Trustees was DeVos was invited because” her mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy” of university founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

Once the president and the administrative leaders gave a ridiculous reason for inviting the new U.S. Secretary of Education to the commencement graduation, everyone was expected to agree and go away quietly. This did not happen; instead, groups such as the NAACP, American Federation of Teachers, The Florida Education Association,, Color of Change, Dream Defenders, and TJ Reddick Bar Association increased their disagreement and protest over the administration’s decision.

Cynthia Slater, president of the NAACP Volusia County-Daytona Beach Chapter, said the university is threatening to withhold the degrees and transcripts for any senior who protests. “They and undergraduate students would have a fine of $1,000. I don’t know where they get this arbitrary number of $1,000 from” said Ms. Slater.

It is obvious that the students are expected to confirm and accept the decisions decided by the president and the board with no voice from the students and teachers. Without an organized and formal process to resolve the graduation speaker issues, the protest groups said hundreds will protest during her speech.

At the graduation, when Secretary DeVos begin her speech, students began to boo, stand up and turn their backs to her. This lasted throughout the entire speech, and at one time the president stopped the speech and threatened students that they would get their diplomas mailed to them if they continued to protest.

The boos continued throughout the entire speech, and the president of the Florida NAACP is calling on Bethune Cookman University President, Dr. Edison Jackson and Board Chairman Dr. Joe Petrock to resign effective immediately.

This situation has turned into a circus and the school’s leadership have proven that they are not listening, and don’t care what the students are thinking or saying. It is important that prominent Black organizations and BCC students organize and present the school with a list of demands to improve the treatment of all the students and teachers.

Commencement speakers should be decided by a collective group of students, teachers, and university administrative leaders. The commencement speech should come from an individual who exemplifiers character and qualities of the mission of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and should empower students to be great.

DeVos was a bad decision, when earlier this year, she said historically Black colleges were pioneers of school choice, and she had no idea that racial segregation and discrimination were the reason for HBCUs.  Black students need leaders who will tell the truth, and have the courage to inspire them to change the world based on Black history.



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Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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