February 29, 2024 – JACKSONVILLE – Edward Waters University (EWU), Florida’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU), recently hosted the latest edition of its monthly Stay Woke Distinguished Speaker Series at Milne Auditorium. This series explores Black history and experiences, offering a platform for accomplished speakers to share insights and engage with the university community. The recent event featured the renowned author, Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates.

During the event’s opening, President and CEO of EWU, A. Zachary Faison Jr., J.D., emphasized the significance of the Stay Woke series in promoting socially conscious activism in the millennial and post-millennial Generation Z era. The series aims to spark meaningful discussions and critical thinking, providing the EWU community with enriching insights from distinguished speakers to inspire positive change.

“Tonight’s event with Ta-Nehisi Coates at Edward Waters University’s Stay Woke Distinguished Speaker Series was a resounding success, echoing the profound impact our scholars and community can achieve through thoughtful engagement,” President Faison said. “Mr. Coates’ wisdom has provided us with a roadmap for positive change, and I would urge our scholars to integrate his insights into their everyday lives. It is through such intellectual nourishment that we empower ourselves to be the change we wish to see in the world. Let us internalize the lessons learned tonight and continue to cultivate a community that thrives on understanding, empathy, and the pursuit of justice.”

Coates read a few pages from his book “Between the World and Me” before participating in a moderated conversation with President Faison and Dr. TaKeia Anthony, the Executive Director for the A. Phillip Randolph Institute for Social Justice, Law, and Economic Policy and Dean of the Honors College.

The conversation explored many topics surrounding Black history, current events, and issues of social justice, systemic racism, and much more.

Responding to questions about psychological violence, Coates challenged the perception of it being a new phenomenon. He highlighted the empowerment of Black women in positions of authority, stating that their presence is a testament to the power they hold. Coates encouraged a broader understanding of political engagement beyond voting, emphasizing that voting should be the beginning, not the end, of civic participation.

When questioned about reparations, Coates shed light on the deep-rooted societal restrictions imposed by the wealth gap. He emphasized the need to break free from these constraints, urging individuals to expand their imaginations beyond the narratives dictated by those who control societal structures.

His thought-provoking insights set the stage for further reflections, echoing the sentiments of Kimberly Holland, a Sophomore Business Administration Scholar from the Honors College. Holland, in a moment of intimate dialogue with Coates before the main event, sought his guidance on developing a unique voice and addressing sensitive topics.

“I had the opportunity to meet him in a student leader cohort representing the Honors College, and I had the opportunity to ask him the question, ‘What advice do you have for developing a unique voice and effectively addressing sensitive topics?'” Holland said. “I think he gave a great answer that honesty is the root of effectively addressing complex and sensitive topics, and I think it’s important here at this private institution in Jacksonville, Florida, to openly and freely talk about Black issues and how they affect America today.”

The impact of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ presence at Edward Waters University resonates far beyond the walls of Milne Auditorium. Coates’ insightful reflections on HBCUs, reparations, and the intricacies of addressing systemic issues left an indelible mark on the minds of the attendees. The significance of such an influential figure sharing his wisdom within the historic confines of Florida’s first HBCU, Edward Waters University, adds a profound layer to the event’s importance.

Coates shared his profound connection to Howard University, stressing how HBCUs are integral to fostering a sense of community and addressing challenges faced by the African diaspora. He reflected on his personal experiences at Howard and the pivotal role it played in shaping his perspective and writing, notably in his book “Between the World and Me.”

By hosting thought leaders like Coates, EWU not only reaffirms its commitment to fostering intellectual discourse but also underscores the pivotal role HBCUs play in shaping conversations around Black history, social justice, and activism. The event not only served as a catalyst for critical thinking and reflection but also highlighted the university’s dedication to providing a platform for transformative dialogue that resonates deeply with the diverse community it serves.