Key note speaker Rep. Ramon Alexander and President Larry Robinson (Credit: Glenn Beil/Office of Communications
Florida A&M University alumnus State Representative Ramon Alexander waxed poetic and lyrical, historical and philsophical as he urged students to action during his Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation address Friday.
Reciting poetry from memory, the three-term Democratic legislator recalled significant dates in American history when African Americans thought they had overcome.
“We thought that day was on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order called the Emancipation Proclamation, which purported to change the federal legal status of more than three million enslaved people in certain areas of the South from slave to free,” Alexander intoned. “We thought that day was on January 31, 1865, when finally, the Congress of the United States, in the midst of a bloody Civil War, passed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.
Recognized as one of the state’s rising political leaders, Alexander was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016 to represent District 8, which includes parts of Leon and Gadsden counties. He has a record of championing criminal justice, economic development, and higher education issues. In looking toward the future, Alexander took lessons from the past.
“We thought that day was April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate Army, fully surrendered to the Union Army,” Alexander continued. “We knew for sure then that the war was over, and the system of bigotry, hatred, and oppression had finally come to an end.”
But neither the end of the Civil War or the euphoric 12-year-period of Reconstruction, which immediately followed, “brought us to the promise land,” Alexander said. All the other strides in the 150 years since then, also remind us that the struggle is far from over.
“We thought that day was November 4, 2008, when Barack Hussein Obama made history and was elected president of the United States,” Alexander told the gathering at the Al Lawson Multipurpose Center. “Just like Dr. King and other great leaders and fighters for equality and justice for all… At every step of the way, we have experienced triumph and disaster and learned how to treat those two imposters just the same.”
During the ceremony, FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., recognized five individuals who have played a leading role in the University’s battle against the pandemic.
Robinson applauded Tanya Tatum, FAMU director of Student Health Services, who oversees testing and vaccinations at the site; Cynthia M. Harris, Ph.D., associate dean, and director of the Institute of Public Health in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health; Mary Simmons, Ph.D., director of the Division of Cardiopulmonary Science, who has been instrumental in recruiting student volunteers to assist at the site; and Carmen Cummings, assistant vice president of Alumni Engagement and director of Alumni Affairs, who ensures the site workers and volunteers are fed every day; and Trustee and Student Government Association President Carrington Whigham, who led efforts to encourage students to get registered to vote, vaccinated, and tested.
The recognition comes of the heels of the Tallahassee Democrat naming Tatum and others who work at the site the Person of the Year. The recognition also includes the set-up crew, registration staff, and contract nurses who rotate in and out of the site. The operation has conducted more than 575,000 tests since it opened April 25, 2020.
“FAMU has been, and will always be, at the forefront of change,” Robinson told the appreciative crowd. “From the Tallahassee bus boycott, the sit-ins, and non-violent protests, to the COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site, FAMU will be a leader for progress.”