By Cynthia Vasquez
Bakari Sellers, an attorney and CNN Contributor, spoke on race relations, diversity in college, and equal rights at one of the seminars apart of the James Dickson Carr lecture series. The function was hosted by and held as one of the Student Access and Educational Equity’s (SAEE) 5th Annual Access Week events.
“Rutgers is doing something amazing, which I will acknowledge and say is being intentional in their pursuit of diversity,” stated Bakari, a native South Carolinian who wholeheartedly believes in the advancement of those with a minority background. “Just looking around this room, it’s an awesome feeling and experience.”
Sellers is the youngest African-American man to ever be elected as a State Representative (D.-S.C. 90) back in 2006 at only 22-years-old. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and has campaigned for issues ranging from domestic abuse, childhood obesity, education, and poverty. Currently, he is hosting the recently launched “Viewpoint with Bakari Sellers,” a politics-themed podcast that has welcomed guests such as Hillary Clinton, Mark Cuban, and Charles Barkley.
“We always try to create an engaging network force for our students to participate in,” said Sabrina Riddick, SAEE’s program coordinator, while introducing Sellers.
With the intent to escalate retention rates through programs such as the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), the mission’s access week is as quoted on their website “to create campus awareness for first-generation, low-income, and historically underrepresented students as well as uplift the SAEE values of Access, Partnership, Inclusivity, and Progressive Thinking.”
“All journeys have to have a definition, and so our goal at the end of this journey is nothing more than excellence,” began Sellers. “So we’re taking this journey to excellence and we’re asking ourselves two very simple questions: how far have we come and where do we go from here?”
These questions were at the core of Sellers’ inspirational message and sparked a sense of intellectual stimulation within the crowd on the current state of our country, and were repeated at multiple times throughout Sellers’ overall lecture.
As someone who aims to see a better future for all underrepresented communities, he proceeded his discourse for the night by speaking on the progression of race relations in the U.S. and the twentieth-century civil rights movement that occurred only a few decades ago. His foremost commentaries were on important judicial moments that he felt needed to be more publicized and remembered, such as those of the Elmore v. Rice (1946), the Briggs v. Elliott-Board of Education case (1949), and the relevance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by leading through example.
He then shifted his tone to a lighter and more humorous one, the same spirit he introduced himself with and carried on throughout the rest of the night, to continue onto modern-day society and ethnic community issues. Using recent happenings and pop-culture to further connect with the largely student-dominated crowd, he spoke on humorous moments while working with Usher on governmentally-concerned endeavors, and claiming how influential the movie “Black Panther” is in terms of providing younger generations of children of color with representation in larger positions.
Sellers’ ultimate message was to realize that anything is possible, regardless of the systemic and/or ever-present hardships one may face. The largest example he cited was, of course, himself.
Sellers’ went on to note that he had made a name for himself as an influential politician in only his twenties and proved that age was but a number when defeating his older opponent for the State Representative Chair. Moreover, he talked about how only two years later former President Obama contacted him to serve on his South Carolina steering committee during the 2008 election. All of these things were accomplished before Sellers was the age of 30, and he continued to make strides by being named one of TIME Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list in both 2010 and 2014, while in 2015 was included on “The Root 100” list “of the nation’s most influential African-Americans.”
His declarative and uplifting message was to say that there is power in youth and to acknowledge one’s early adulthood as a blessing. Sellers was very keen on acknowledging all of us fairly young attendees that the power of the country’s future lies in our hands and that we are more than capable of taking on that challenge and responsibility in the same way he did.
“You have more of a say in that than me,” Sellers said during the Q&A session to a student. “You’ve got to dream with your eyes open. There’s so much we [the youth] can do, and we have the capacity to change the world.”
“You’ve got to dream” with your eyes open was his way of emphasizing the importance of having a vision and that being a visionary is the root of achieving the journey to excellence he mentioned at the very beginning of the night. Sellers’ candid demeanor of speaking on having faith and security in oneself was far-reaching because he is an example of a person-of-color who has was able to do so starting at around the age of the majority of those in the crowd.
College-specific advice revolved around becoming involved outside of the classroom, as he claimed to work in the offices of multiple politicians equipped him with the tools to gain the confidence and his own vision in pursuing his goals. Moreover, Sellers also remarked on the importance of remembering to enjoy creating memories and experiencing one’s own life.
“I just want people to get motivated and have fun while you’re in school. Party hard, make your weekends start on Thursday,” added Sellers. “But make sure that every moment that you spend you’re helping somebody else.”
Sellers’ concluding remarks were on how he managed to stay on track and motivated, surmising that his tactic is to aim to go to bed more satisfied than he was the previous day by creating even larger impacts than he had already made previously.