Brookdale Holds Civic Engagement and Empowerment Conference

Heather O’Donnell, Features Editor

In light of the upcoming presidential election, Brookdale political science professor and Honors Program coordinator, Jonathan Moschberger, held a Civic Engagement and Empowerment Conference over Zoom from 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.
The goal of the conference was to empower Brookdale students and community members to play a more effective role in the political process. The conference covered two major topics: the intersection between racial and gender inequality, along with American politics and how younger voters could get involved in the political process. A variety of insightful speakers addressed each topic.
The first speaker was Brookdale History Professor Gilda Rodgers, who stated that racism compels people to engage in civic processes by working together to dismantle systems that keep indigenous people, those of color, and those in the LGBTQ community at a disadvantage. According to Rodgers, the government does not accurately represent minority groups and the way to change this is by electing qualified officials who belong to those groups. This will help ensure that the government can adequately meet the needs of all Americans, she said.
When making her points, she referred to James Baldwin’s quote, “We can’t change anything until it’s faced.” Before Americans can make changes that benefit society, they must confront their own biases.
Dr. Danielle Jones, a member of the Brookdale Leadership Department, spoke next. She talked about the federal Educational Opportunity Fund created in response to the 1960s Newark race riots, which she said were triggered by a lack of access to education, housing and healthcare.
Jones advised students to advocate for themselves before trying to advocate for others, focus on making small changes that can add up to large changes over time, make time to read what interests them, and use their power to make positive changes.
“Leadership is an influence, not a title,” she said. A person doesn’t have to have a title to be a leader; all that’s necessary is a clear vision and the ability to empower others to make changes, Jones insisted.
Birgit Mondesir, a member of the Brookdale Honors Advisory Council, emphasized the need for educational institutions to teach historically accurate information about history and encourage students to broaden their perspectives instead of maintaining a one-sided view. Mondesir also stated that Americans must vote for leaders who possess integrity and hold their elected officials accountable. However, in her eyes, it was not enough to vote. She said Americans must attend to their civic obligations and love their community. It is with love, not hate, that people can collaborate to create change, Mondesir said.
Echoing Mondesiir’s sentiments was Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College. Vitale stated that Americans must get politically engaged outside of voting and focus on the three A’s: awareness, advocacy and action. One action Americans can take is to participate in meetings for organizations they care about so they learn how to make a positive impact in their communities and society. He said it is important to teach children to be active, engaged, kind, and loving so they grow up to be compassionate citizens who can see issues from other people’s perspectives and look for ways to serve their communities.
Another speaker who is passionate about community service is Kim Guadagno, the President and CEO of Fulfill Food Bank in Red Bank. Guadagno explained that governments should advocate for vulnerable populations and promote public service, bipartisanship, unity, and collaboration. People must put aside their political differences and work together toward a common goal.
Toward the end of the conference, Kristy Verdi, a social studies subject area leader and teacher at Hillsborough County Public Schools, and Nausheen Husain, the director of the Brookdale Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP,) explained the crucial role young people play in the political system. Then, this semester’s CEEP Fellows, Gianna Simon and Valeska Yaninas, discussed the work they have been doing to encourage young people to make their voices heard. They stressed that although young people may not think they can make a difference, the truth is that everyone has the power to make some sort of impact.
Overall, the conference sought to enlighten and inspire Brookdale community members to, as Mahatma Gandhi would say, be the change they want to see in the world. Anyone who would like more information on upcoming events, can contact Jonathan Moschberger or the political science department.