LITTLE SILVER, NJ - Fifteen years ago, Jerome Roundtree was celebrated as the captain of his football team and the quarterback, who helped lead the Buccaneers to its first playoff in 27 years. He was also a good student and member of a school group called Students Seeking Education through Diversity. It was in his latter role that he recalls accompanying then Student Assistant Counselor Risa Clay to Trenton where they addressed Governor Corzine for a state grant that would fund and establish a School Based Youth Services Program --The RBR SOURCE. Today, he lives in Tinton Falls and works for Goodwill and as a DJ. He remains an avid Buccaneer fan regularly attending sporting events. He mentors his nephew, RBR senior Quran Malloy, as well as his friends. He was honored that his former mentor, and now RBR Principal Risa Clay, invited him as the keynote speaker at this year’s Black History Month celebration, which was organized by the school’s Multi-cultural Club.
Jerome believes that RBR taught him two major lessons, one of discipline-- gained through hard work on the ballfield and in the classroom --and a second of diversity, which he states, “is important because that is the world.” Mr. Roundtree delivered a detailed and researched speech to the RBR student body highlighting many of the contributions of Black Americans. One included a little known fact that a Black engineer, Dr. Henry Sampson, was awarded a patent in 1971for the “gamma-electric cell” which led to the development of the indispensable and life-changing cellular phone.
Principal Clay and senior Tamia Waddy, who introduced the students to the celebration, also mentioned many of Black American history’s heroes from Fredrick Douglas to Dr. Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama.
“The list could go on and on,” Tamia stated, “African Americans have made enormous impacts in every single aspect of American life.”
RBR’s history club created a power point presentation on Black Americans’ participation in American wars spanning the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and Vietnam. All with the exception of Vietnam occurred with African Americans serving in segregated companies. Still they earned great military distinction as the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II and the Harlem Hellraisers, (the longest serving unit of Americans in World War I which was honored with the US Legion of Merit and the French Croix de Guerre military decorations. Black Americans composed 25% of those serving in Vietnam while only composing 13% of the population. Black American contributions to the American military reached its apex in 1989 with General Colin Powell rising to Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff under President George H Bush.
Black History was celebrated in art by the talented RBR Visual & Performing Arts students. The RBR dance majors performed to a musical iteration of Maya Angelou recitation of her famous poem, “And Still I Rise.” The beautiful and rich voices of RBR soloist and choral members sang the Black American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice”, the American Negro Spiritual “Go Down Moses” and rhythm and blues “Stand by Me.” A piano duet featured the Joplin ragtime waltz “Bethena.”The String Majors and Guitar players played a medley set to an historical slide story tracing the tragic beginnings of colonial slavery, the struggle for freedom and civil rights from reconstruction through the civil rights era to today. Drama major Max Portman performed a timeless speech from the 1940 Chaplin film the “Great Dictator”, followed by a rousing Jimi Hendrix rendition of the Star Spangle Banner performed by Anthony Campana on electric guitar. The RBR jazz band closed the celebration with their performance of the “King of Pop”, aka Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Principal Clay had framed African American history stating, “It hasn’t been an easy struggle. We don’t have to go all the way back in history to slavery to see the effects of institutional racism in this country.” She detailed all the laws passed in the past 60 years to reduce discrimination from Brown versus the Board of Education to four Civil Rights Acts. She concluded stating, “Let us remember that making changes and fighting discrimination begins right here with us.”
This was advice that keynote speaker Jerome Roundtree echoed when he told the students, “It is important for you to treat others with kindness and not to discriminate against your peers. That means no racial discrimination, no gender discrimination, or any other type of injustice toward your fellow students. Lend a helping hand when possible, and work towards learning about other people’s cultures and differences, so we can emotionally grow as a nation.”