Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump delivers fiery addresses to newly-minted alumni
Renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump told North Carolina Central University (NCCU) graduates on May 6 that their degrees come with expectations, including fighting against injustice and racial oppression, and speaking for the voiceless.
Crump, a Lumberton native who has become a household name while representing the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and other African Americans in high profile cases, delivered fiery, inspiring speeches at the university’s 141st Commencement Exercises.
During the baccalaureate ceremony, which began at 8 a.m. in McDougald-McLendon Arena, more than 500 undergraduate students were awarded degrees. The graduate and professional ceremony began at 2 p.m., also inside the arena, and more than 400 students were awarded master’s, juris doctor and Ph.D. degrees.
Crump charged the graduates to speak truth to power, saying his grandmother taught him the importance of doing so when he was a young boy.
“You all don’t realize how powerful you are,” he said. “You all don’t realize how powerful you’re going to be. With this great education from North Carolina Central University, you’re going to be able to do amazing things in the world, important things in the world, necessary things in the world. You all are the best and the brightest, the most articulate, the most intelligent, the most resourceful. Y’all are the best that our future has to offer the world, and y’all must remember that every day going forward, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that you are not the best. You are never inferior. You are never insignificant.”
He also commended the graduates for serving as co-counsels for him and his legal team when they fought for justice for Floyd, who was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“It was because of you all working in the court of public opinion, whether you were tweeting, whether you were posting, whether you were signing petitions, whether you were going to protests, whether you were going to rallies, whether you were standing up and marching and saying until we get justice for George Floyd, then none of us can breathe,” Crump said. “I want to thank you on behalf of his family for us being able to get that landmark verdict of guilty, guilty, guilty!”
He also referenced the death of Taylor at the hands of Louisville police, and the murder of Arbery, who was shot by white men while jogging in a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia.
NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D., began the baccalaureate ceremony with a moment of silence for student-athlete Devin Butts, who passed away on May 5 and was expected to graduate in the summer with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social sciences, and Kian McKinley Brown ’06, ‘21, national vice president of the NCCU Alumni Association Inc., who passed away on May 2. He also awarded a posthumous Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree to the family of Cornisha Shaw, a student who passed away in October 2022.
After acknowledging Butts, Brown and Shaw, Akinleye commended the undergraduates for their perseverance.
“Class of 2023, you faced a world of unprecedented challenges with great creativity and adaptability,” Akinleye said. “Your experiences have not only equipped you with invaluable skills; but have also forged within you a generation of trailblazers ready to take on the future with vigor and determination. Today marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in your lives. With your NCCU education as your foundation, you are poised to soar to new heights, overcome challenges and create positive change in your chosen careers and lives of service.”
Akinleye also recognized two NCCU students: Jesse White, a non-traditional undergraduate student who obtained his bachelor’s degree in mass communication after placing his aspirations on hold to empower students in NCCU’s University College; and Asia Skyers, who hails from a long line of NCCU School of Law graduates and was awarded a degree through the institution’s joint juris doctor/Master of Information Science program. White plans to pursue a master’s degree in strategic communications at Syracuse University, with the goal of opening his own public relations firm. Skyers will begin her career as a civil litigator with a Raleigh law firm.
Akinleye concluded his remarks by challenging the students to never forget their alma mater and to hold true to the responsibilities that are now vested in them.
“As you leave our cherished campus, relish in the memories and experiences that have shaped you,” he continued. “Stay connected to your alma mater. Look back. Give back to support those who follow your footsteps. We celebrate your achievements and set you forth with pride, confidence and unwavering support of your NCCU family. Now, as you depart these hallowed grounds, we bid you farewell and Godspeed.”
Darlene Eberhardt-Burke, Ph.D., an associate professor and interim chair in the NCCU Department of Human Sciences, was presented with the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her strong teaching, collaboration and fundraising portfolio includes $250,000 in funding from private organizations for curriculum enhancement and student support. She also received a $100,000 award from the GAP, in partnership with ICON 360, delivering the largest award by this partnership to an historically Black college or university (HBCU).
Additionally, three NCCU professors— Wykeshia Glass, Ed.D., Christopher McGinn, Ph.D., and Jason O’Briant, Ph.D. — were recognized as recipients of the 2023 NCCU Award for Excellence in Teaching.
To view a rebroadcast of NCCU’s 141st Commencement Exercises, visit here.
Photos from the ceremonies and a class infographic can be viewed here.