Hola Merritt! Our campus has been vibrant throughout September as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month 2019. One of many highlights this month was certainly the “Let’s Unite” event which had the campus buzzing on Thursday September 26th. Presented by the Inter-Club Council and ASMC, “Let’s Unite” featured The Honorable Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the United States as the keynote speaker. Appointed by President Barak Obama, Rios served as US Treasurer from 2009 to 2016.
Ms. Rios is a local success story. She was raised in Hayward right here in East Bay. She went to college at Harvard, in Massachusetts where she said, “no one looked liked me.” She also noticed a lack of student clubs with only a handful available in the mid 1980s. So in 1986 she founded Cultural Rhythms, an annual cultural festival that showcases diversity and celebrates student performance, which helped inspire the launch of many new student organizations by offering them an annual showcase event. Cultural Rhythms continues to this day as a popular annual program, prompting Harvard to honor Ms. Rios as the first Latina in its 380-year history to have a portrait commissioned in her honor.
She served as the City of Oakland’s redevelopment director for several years before leaving to serve at US Treasurer. Her long and successful service as Treasurer resulted in her receipt of the Hamilton Award, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Department of the Treasury.
At one point during her talk she said, “I believe in Oakland” and mentioned that she loved the ending of the movie Black Panther and asked, “How can we make Wakanda a reality here in Oakland?” The answer is “Let’s Unite.”
Her keynote message to students was filled with personal experiences about otherness and countering exclusion through educational activism. “You are all here because you value education. Continue to invest in yourself.” Excellent advice from someone who knows a thing or two about financial investments! A video of the talk is available on the Merritt College Facebook page here.
The event was coordinated by Aziza Crowder, Merritt College student and president of the Merritt Inter-Club Council. Ms. Crowder reflected that the event “embodied the true meaning of unity as many clubs helped to set up and prepare early Thursday morning.” She continued, “The honorable Ms. Rios was an inspiration to all in the room as she shared her experiences on diversity and the strength in numbers students have when determining important outcomes within their own communities.”
Peralta Board of Trustees President Julina Bonilla and Vice President Karen Weinstein were in the audience. Said President Bonilla, “Big shout out to Merritt student government for coordinating a wonderful event!”