February 1, 2024 – JACKSONVILLE – Assembled in the Milne Auditorium at Edward Waters University, a diverse audience comprising faculty, staff, students, and community members attentively absorbed the insightful words of Michael Harriot as he shared his perspective on the history of Black America.
Harriot, a distinguished columnist at thegrio.com, a four-time recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists SaluteExcellence Award, and the New York Times Bestselling author of “Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America,” is renowned for shedding light on issues affecting Black culture. He spoke about his journey navigating cultural conflicts while fearlessly expressing his truth, even when it might make others uncomfortable.
“One of the things I think about telling Black stories is, a lot of the times, we try to frame them in a way that is sympathetic or a way that makes them fit into the way we have always heard our stories told,” Harriot said. “Even my book, most historians reject it because it has humor in it or because it is storytelling. But, communicating with Black people in the way that we talk to each other is important because our stories”
Attendees resonated with Harriot’s candid and free-spirited nature, valuing his unfiltered honesty that is often restrained in day-to-day life. Dr. Erin Gilliam, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs at EWU, emphasized the impact of Harriot’s words, providing an opportunity for everyone to voice thoughts they rarely express aloud.
“While not everyone will become a historian, I hope our students leave with a sense of pride in being Black, attending a historically Black university, and knowing they have a voice. They should feel empowered to speak their minds confidently, backed by documentation and sources,” Gilliam expressed.
Students echoed their appreciation for Harriot’s honesty and outspokenness.
“It’s nice that an HBCU can do something like this,” Adeleye Mesogboriwon, Senior at EWU. “To bring Black leaders to us and keep us woke. I learned a lot about Black people in America, how white people think about us, and how they have been intentionally destroying our truth.”
As Florida’s first private historically Black Institution, it was only fitting the educational distinguished speaker series was held on EWU campus. Dr. Takeia Anthony, Executive Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute for Social Justice, Law, and Economic Policy and Dean of Honors College at EWU highlighted the importance of addressing social justice issues within the community.
“It is significant for us to host the series here at Edward Waters University to educate not only our students, but our faculty, staff and our community about the social justice issues that are going on,” Anthony said. “To raise awareness and to galvanize conversations that will bring about resolutions for the Black community is always the focus of our HBCUs and the focus of the social justice institute here at Edward Waters University.”
As the event concluded, participants left with validated feelings. The Distinguished Speaker Series aims to guide young scholars in finding their voice and understanding the world around them, connecting them with community leaders and reassuring them that they are not alone.
“This series is intended to create a platform for the entire EWU community to hear and engage with accomplished and distinctive speakers to provoke meaningful discussions, reflective and critical thinking, and provide insight and illumination into the critical issues of our time,” A. Zachary Faison Jr., J.D., President and CEO of Edward Waters University said. “It is my hope that the full collection of distinguished speakers that will visit our academic community over the forthcoming years will allow the EWU community to indeed and invariantly stay woke by engaging the views ideas and espouse ideals expressed by the national thought leaders authors, entertainers, activists, advocates and opinion shapers who are featured as a part of our series. We hope that everyone leaves tonight inspired, motivated, and even a bit agitated, to expand their personal footprint as a socially responsible leader and architect of positive change here in the greater Jacksonville area and beyond.”