The onset of COVID-19 has disrupted so much of our everyday lives. From remote work schedules to having our favorite reality TV shows come to a halt, it’s safe to say that Ms. Rona hasn’t been the best company to keep.
That — coupled with the disproportionate number of deaths in our community due to the pandemic — has made 2020 a challenge, to say the least, for Black people. With virtual commencement ceremonies being organized by everyone from LeBron James (who also created an official t-shirt for 2020's graduating class) to Barack Obama, Chase Bank decided to collaborate with 78 historically Black colleges and universities to celebrate the 27,000 students who were to cross the stage this year.
We’ve rounded up five of our favorite moments from the star-studded commencement below:
1. Rapsody’s opening bars
2. HBCU presidential roll call
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the HBCU presidents who led our Black students to the graduation stage. The president roll call featured leaders from institutions like Howard University, Spelman College and more who sent their students off right by affirming their talents and success. It just goes to show that the pandemic can’t fracture the real relationships that these students have built with the presidents of their institutions.
3. A tribute to the Divine 9
Divine nine organizations are part of the cultural backbone of HBCUs. Members of the Alpha Kappa Alphas, Omega Psi Phi, Zeta Phi Beta and others were seen doing their organizations' signature walks as rapper Griot B's "HBCU There" aptly played in the background.
4. Omari Hardwick’s spoken word performance
We’re used to Omari Hardwick portraying one of our favorite anti-heroes, Ghost, in the Starz hit, Power. But on Saturday we saw him in a much more poetic light. Spitting some spoken word that touched on the value of Black education, his fraternal roots and the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, Hardwick manifested greatness over our graduates in a fiery way.
“Dearest class of 2020, this was only a test of you letting go and letting God reinvent your sheep,” Hardwick said. “You are the class with which no prior years could ever compete. So alas, take off your shoes, show your bruised feet and show me your walk into destiny.”
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5. Barack Obama taking a not so subtle shot at Trump and saying Ahmaud Arbery's name
While former President Barack Obama’s White House occupancy has ended, his role as a source of national leadership and inspiration has not. Obama gave a moving speech in which he acknowledged that grads originally attended their respective institution to sow seeds of change. He encouraged them to be proud of their accomplishments despite attending “Zoom University” for the greater half of the semester and advised them to take their activism to the next level, to become comfortable with allyship among other marginalized communities and to keep being good role models.
In his speech, the 44th president addressed the underlying racial inequalities that led to two vastly different but equally devastating tragedies within the Black community.
"A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that Black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in our communities," Obama said.
"Just as we see it when a Black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn't submit to their questioning. Injustice like this isn't new," Obama said, referencing the February 23 killing of Arbery.
He also imparted to graduates their significance in this time of crisis.
"If the world is going to get better, it's going to be up to you," the former POTUS said.
Well grads, the world is yours. Show it your walk.