CSUN leader – and keynote speaker Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement – welcomed the school’s newest students on September 30, recognizing the unprecedented pandemic-challenged path they have taken to become part of the Matador family and encouraged them to keep pushing towards their goals.
Overcoming hurdles “like no other” shows the resilience and determination required for lifelong success, said CSUN President Erika D. Beck, applauding the participants in the annual New Student Convocation that took place on Zoom.
“Although the pandemic occurred for all of us at the same time – and it is certainly not over yet – we experienced it in a very personal way,” she said. “For our freshers, your high school experience was definitely not the way you imagined or hoped it would be. But despite the challenges, your resilience has prevailed and you are here. Getting admission and enrolling in college isn’t easy, even in the best of times. You have achieved it even while navigating through really extraordinary circumstances. “
Keynote speaker Cullors, like the students she addresses, is familiar with challenges. A native of San Fernando Valley, he started the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 with a hashtag in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. The movement has since grown into a global foundation. Cullors has also led Los Angeles-based organizations such as Dignity and Power Now, Justice LA, and Reform LA Jails. In 2020, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
Cullors began reading the first chapter of her book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, which is CSUN’s Freshmen Common Reading selection for 2021-22. Her intent was to set the stage for what led her to become an activist, artist, and abolitionist – a background that would look familiar to many CSUN students, she said. Describing the hardships of her childhood during the height of the nationwide wars on drugs and gangs in the 1980s and 1990s, she grew up poor in public housing designed for people passing through.
Her father was at her home and in her spare time, she said. When Cullors was 6 years old, he was gone for good. As she got older, she witnessed her brothers and friends being harassed by the police “for doing absolutely nothing but talking,” while a well-known white drug dealer, the brother of one of her good friends, managed to to operate and “not to be criminalized”. in nearby affluent Sherman Oaks.
“While a lot of people are reading this book and thinking, ‘The first thing Patrisse will talk about is Black Lives Matter,’ we’ve decided that the first thing I need to talk about is how someone grows up in the community and how they are something like Black Lives Matter, ”said Cullors.
“So much of the system we are currently living in and what we are experiencing with police and violence comes from the last 30 years in which we have been trained as a community to focus on people’s lives through punishment and revenge should ask. “
She encouraged students to ask themselves questions about their own upbringing and how they see themselves – or not – in the book as they read her book.
“I wanted to change what was happening in my community and my neighborhood,” said Cullors. “I would like to challenge each of you to come into your power. This is the time to step into your strength. This is the time when you can make decisions about how you will not only change yourself but also the world. “
Every fall, the convocation brings together freshmen and transfer students starting their college careers on the CSUN campus. It’s an opportunity for university leaders – including Vice President for Student Affairs and Academic Affairs William Watkins and Vice Provost Matthew Cahn – to give a healthy dose of encouragement, announce opportunities for academic and extracurricular engagement and, perhaps most importantly, express how the university is focused on to help them succeed in class and in life.
Jonathan Hay, President and Senior Associated Students, also approached the newcomers and encouraged them to be open to new ideas and to make themselves vulnerable.
“You will learn more outside of the classroom than in it,” he said. “College is not easy. You will experience difficulty and pain, but you can overcome anything. A matador’s will is strong. “