MELANIE ANZIDEI and KAYLA HASTRUP
For the College at Florham, the “Eyewitness News This Morning” announcement of six more weeks of winter was not the top news of the day on Feb. 2. FDU’s Association of Black Collegians was more concerned with their first event of the semester, the opening ceremony of Black History Month.
On Groundhog Day, while Lori Stokes of WABC gave Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, Association of Black Collegians’ President Tashon Thompson prepared for Stokes’ arrival on campus.
“I was nervous the entire day,” Thompson said. “That no one was going to show and it was just going to be me and her.”
When 2 p.m. rolled around, Thompson had nothing to be nervous about anymore as Lenfell Hall was slowly filling.
Stokes, anchor for “Eyewitness News This Morning” and “Eyewitness News at Noon,” spoke to FDU students and faculty about her life, experiences and her familiarity with social restraints and movements.
Throughout her career, Stokes has covered everything from her first-ever story about opening day for deer hunting season, to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. She also went undercover as a homeless person for three days in Baltimore and covered the election of Barack Obama.
Along the way, Stokes has received a variety of awards, including an Emmy, for her reporting.
“I don’t think I would have wanted anyone else to come in and speak,” Thompson said, following Stokes’ speech.
The ceremony started with Thompson, who has been ABC’s president since May of last year, introducing the other members of the club. Following him, freshman ABC member Kadi Cisse, kicked off the ceremony with a reading. Cisse gripped the microphone in her left hand as she read a powerful poem called, “Million Man March.” Kristin Fulton, vice president of ABC, then welcomed Stokes to the stage.
“I was excited,” Fulton said later. “I love Lori Stokes.”
Stokes told the audience about her experiences as a daughter of the first black American to represent the state of Ohio in the House of Representatives. She said she saw herself as “a kid who grew up with a dad that paved the way for a black president.”
Stokes also spoke about her life, from campaigning with her father at the age of six, to arriving at her first crime scene. As she progressed, she discussed just how far we’ve come from the days of segregation, and how far we still need to go.
“We are all beautiful people when we appreciate everything that we each bring to the table,” Stokes said. She recalled the Greensboro sit-ins, the Million Man March, and the most recent presidential election.
“My grandmother always told me you have to know where you came from to know where you are going,” she said.
Stokes also spoke of the conflicts she has had to face as a black woman. At one point earlier in her career, she said, she was called into her manager’s office with her then-boyfriend, NBC’s Brian Thompson, and was told, “You should stick with your own kind.” She then told the FDU audience, “I couldn’t believe it, but I had to accept his ignorance and left his office.”
Stokes went on to quote President Obama saying that “race is an issue that cannot be ignored.”
“Let’s hope that as we move forward as a nation and celebrating Black History Month, we realize we are all on this earth together,” Stokes said.
Thompson, on behalf of ABC, thanked Stokes with FDU-themed gifts of a university t-shirt, keychain and mug.
“She was great,” Thompson said. “She e-mailed me after about how much she loved the campus.”
Stokes told Thompson that she gave the t-shirt to her co-anchor, Ken Rosato, and the mug to senior meteorologist Bill Evans, while she kept the keychain. She also mentioned FDU on-air before and after the event, Thompson said.
“We had a great turnout,” Thompson said.
For ABC, this was just the first of many events for Black History Month and the rest of the semester.
Upcoming events include panel discussions, a bad romance party, a taking over of the cafeteria, the annual fashion show, and a Black History Month closing ceremony on Feb. 26.