Pictured above left to right at Red Bank Regional’s Black History Month celebration are event emcee senior Corey Van Huff, Multi-cultural Club co-advisor Odilia Lligui, keynote speaker Lynese Rawlins, RBR Principal Risa Clay, and Multicultural Club co-advisor Karina Tedeschi. Below, RBR Dance majors presented their own original choregoraphy during the program.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

“Education is the key to life,” Lynese Rawlins told her audience at Red Bank Regional High School, as she addressed the student body during the school’s Black History Month observance on February 2.

A college student who recently graduated early from Montclair State University, and who plans to attend law school in the fall, the Class of 2013 RBR grad returned to her alma mater as keynote speaker for the special event.

A high-achieving student at RBR as president of her senior class, captain of the cheer-leading squad and recipient of the NJ Governor’s award in 2013, Lynese serves as a as a local role model and example of how hard work and determination breeds success.

The celebration was coordinated by the RBR Multicultural Club and augmented by performances from the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy, as well as the History Club. The latter created a Powerpoint presentation on education and African American history entitled “The Fight for Equity in Education.”

Multicultural Club students explained that while freedom from slavery was won over 150 years ago, the access to quality education is still not uniformly implemented. From the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling of 1896 (which held the misnomer doctrine of “Separate but Equal”), to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case (which legally ended segregation), America’s quest for equity in education did not always move in a straight line. In fact, it took President Eisenhower to order federal troops to escort the courageous “Little Rock Nine” and integrate the Arkansas city’s high school following the desegregation order.

The students noted that today, especially in the state of New Jersey, some schools are segregated more than ever. According to a 2013 Civil Rights Project report, “Students of color have only seen their chances of attending an ‘intensely segregated’ school increase in the past ten years.”

“Public schools in African American communities lack resources, are overcrowded, and lack opportunities afforded at other schools,” stated student Corey Van Huff. “This leaves students unprepared and unable to reach the American dream.”

He added, however, that a bright spot in New Jersey public education is that regional high school districts like RBR which tend to have more diverse student bodies, resulting in lower dropout rates and greater preparation for college. A case in point is Lynese Rawlins, who told the students, “I made my mark here, and learned every lesson I possibly could from this amazing school and every dedicated teacher.

“I am a proud member of the first African American Sorority founded in 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha…and I have been able to give back to thousands of students in low-income communities,” she continued.  “I have been able to promote and educate young youth at risk about the importance of education and attending colleges.”

The guest speaker explained that “Despite your race, your gender, who you decide to love in life, or your religion, our ancestors and even some of our grandparents have paved the way for our generation and for many generations to come.”

African American cultural contributions to the nation’s history were showcased by the many talented students in its Visual and Performing Arts Academy. The string orchestra, which opened the festivities, performed the Black American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” while the jazz band performed Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” and the iconic Gershwin tune “Summertime” from the opera Porgy and Bess.

The concert choir sang “Take Me to the Water” by Rollo Dilworth, a contemporary gospel style piece that incorporates quotations from two African American spirituals. The chamber singers sang another medley of spirituals entitled “Yonder Come Day.” RBR dance majors danced to their own choreographed pieces set to “Rise Up” (about overcoming challenges) and “Arrival of the Birds” (about a group coming together).  Drama students performed Maya Angelou’s haunting “And Still I Rise, which concluded with “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”

In discussing RBR’s special diversity, RBR Principal Risa Clay stated, “We have come together for common causes.  Remember those moments. Do the right thing for the right reasons. And remember in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”