Over the decades since emancipation, Black Americans have been hard at work as a people. We have done everything from re-connecting and reuniting our families, creating culture, fighting against laws intended to exclude and oppress us, to building institutions that are a safe place for us to celebrate, learn, pray and meet. Places like the Black church and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) have been a groundswell for Black excellence, sovereignty, education and training for our people. Most especially, our HBCUs have always been a special mix of tradition, culture, style, and history, while also serving as a launching pad for some of Black America’s most impactful fights for change.

The Social Justice Institute at Florida Memorial University is founded on the belief that as the movement to liberate oppressed people and to make America an equitable place to live takes center stage in this national conversation, our students, faculty, staff, and community have the chance to safely think and practice innovative ways we can move forward as a people. Now, as always, we must be about the intentional cultivation of change-agents. The FMU SJI is taking shape as the space where these important conversations can be had, and the groundwork can be laid for just such an effort. I’m proud to be a part of that work.

The idea of a Social Justice Institute makes me happy and it gives me hope. I have the privilege to serve as the very first Advocate-in-Residence at FMU. Through my position I am assisting the University to center social change as a part of its identity, both inside and outside of the classroom. I will work with students to implement and test new ideas, while building relationships with our local and statewide community to make sure we are aligned with our larger movement. With experience and humbleness, I am overjoyed to see us tackle issues like criminal justice, education justice, economic justice, systemic racism, civic engagement, gun violence, and environmental justice. We will build an agenda to make sure our communities are prioritized, and to ensure that we are at the center of the change we want to see. We will use different techniques, events, work groups, study sessions, teach-ins, partnerships and much more to make this vision become a reality. We will focus on our future, and we will train up the next generation to take leadership with the goal of ending all oppression in America.

The FMU SJI is the kind of think and action tank that we hope will catch wind and encourage Black institutions to partner with us as we build out our demands and vision for the Black diaspora across Florida.

Valencia “Vee” Gunder is Advocate-InResidence at Florida Memorial University Social Justice Institute