By Samantha Phillips
Former Sen. Nina Turner (OH-D) was the keynote speaker for Black History Month at Youngstown State University on Wednesday. She pointed out that black history isn’t something to be celebrated just one month out of the year.
“Black history is America’s history, and this great nation wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions of African-Americans,” she said.
Turner opened by citing that only 8.5 percent of black students graduate within six years at YSU.
“To me there’s something wrong with that. It’s everybody’s responsibility to care about that,” she said.
Higher education breaks a cycle of ignorance, Turner said, and universities should focus on making students better citizens rather than training them to make money.
The speech primarily focused on the current political climate. Turner said some people aren’t happy with the people in national government but change begins in communities.
People must engage in voting every year, whether it’s a local election for positions such as city councilmen or the presidential election, Turner said, and they shouldn’t let the fear of what’s happening at the White House stop them from acting.
“We Americans tend to call non-presidential election years ‘off-year’ elections,” she said. “I would argue that the folks closest to us are the most important.”
Politicians should be public servants, but many just want to serve themselves, Turner said.
“We have lots of folks in great positions of power and a lot of them don’t do a whole lot with their positions,” she said. “We need people who are going to speak up.”
Having a Democratic president for eight years made Democrats too comfortable, she said. Over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, a significant number of governorships and state houses were turned to the Republican Party.
Turner said there is struggle now just as African-Americans struggled in the past.
Many heroes of the civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks are not recognized for the entirety of their work, she said.
“All through the month of February we give a list of names we know, but we don’t really know the depth of what they did for the African American struggle,” she said. “We must go deeper into our studies of even the people who are held to the highest esteem.”
Tiffany Anderson, director of Africana Studies, said she helped bring Turner to YSU after a student said she admired Turner.
“I felt it would be exciting to have her as our speaker because she is a dynamic speaker with an Ohio connection,” Anderson said.
Braylin Rushton, a YSU social work student, said it’s important for students to attend campus events such as Turner’s speech because it creates a sense of community.