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 HBCU’s and telling our students the truth will build character and
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
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, Change.org, Color of Change, Dream
Defenders, and TJ Reddick Bar Association increased their disagreement and protest over the
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.