On Monday, Sept. 23, in Dr. Nicholas Hirshon’s Reality Check Series, students were introduced to two journalists, from both the past and present, who have made an impact on their communities. Gilda Rogers and T. Thomas Fortune have both been important figures in African American culture. Rodgers’ present endeavors reflect the ideas first expressed by Fortune years ago.
This event gave students the opportunity to reflect on how important it is to be an active part of a community and learn from history.
The event highlighted the connection between both of these people, who are from different times, but both changed the lives of those around them.
The event also focused on how Rogers and Fortune have played an important role in the world of journalism and have used their gifts to be positive avenues for change within a culture.
Fortune, who was born into slavery but went on to become an editor and owner of one of the most prestigious African American papers of his time called the New York Age, used his paper as an avenue to protest against racism, murder, and the refusal of rights to his people.
Both journalists have played a part in being activists, not just in their communities, but as liaisons for others.
Fortune was also responsible for creating the National Afro American League, which was one the first equal rights organizations of his time.
Rogers is co-chair of Citizens For a Diverse & Open Society, which gets together once a month to gain a better understanding about race, culture, and what it means to be human.
Rogers has written two books about her journey and courage called “Out of the Ashes Came Hope” and “Arrested Development,” while Fortune published, “Dreams of Life,” a book of poems.
Rogers said her connection with Fortune began when each day she drove by a large Victorian home that stood on what was once called Beech Street in Red Bank, New Jersey, and often wondered who lived in the home.
She said it was not until she began to do research while working on her graduate degree that she found out that the house actually belonged to Fortune. It was at that point that she became more intrigued about the history of the home and its owner, and wanted to do all she could to save it from demolition.
Although many people knew the history of Fortune, there were also many who were unaware of the role that Fortune had played in African American History.
It was then that Rogers formed a small group and began to have public meetings and fundraisers to save the home. She also had yellow signs placed in front of residents’ homes to gain attention for her mission.
After many failed attempts to come up with the money to save the home, Rogers said she was about to give up.
“I remember being on the phone one night with a friend and saying, there’s nothing else we can do. I’m going to turn it over to a higher power,” Rogers said.
She said it was not until three days later that she received an email from a gentleman named Roger Mumford, a well known developer, saying that he wanted to meet with her about the house. He told her that he noticed all the signs that she had placed around town and wanted to help.
Rogers went on to say that Mumford offered to buy the property, restore the home and then deed it back to her organization for one dollar. Mumford wanted to see the home turned into a cultural center that would bring people together.
Rodgers was involved with the project throughout, including the grand opening of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center on May 23, 2019.
Today you can visit the home at 94 Dr. James Parker Blvd in Red Bank. To learn more about the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and the Cultural Center visit, www.tthomasfortuneculturalcenter.org