Sunday, October 27, 2013

“An Open Letter to the current Grambling State University Students and GSU Alumni”

Hello Students:

My name is Rico Rivers and I am a two time graduate of Grambling State University. I graduated in the summer of 1994 with two bachelor degrees and an associate degree (psychology and criminal justice). I graduated two years after that with a master degree in social work. I have worked for the past 17 years in my chosen profession of social work as a mental health therapist and a substance abuse counselor. I have loved every minute of the work that I have done as a social worker over the years and as I head into my 18th year as a social worker in 2014, I have no regrets to report at this time for choosing this field of work. Well, it is more like the profession chose me. Social workers are advocates. Social workers tend to speak up for the voiceless. We often times take an unpopular stance for those who can’t stand up for themselves at that moment. However, after taking such unpopular stances, we stick around to teach those without a voice or with sturdy legs to stand on their own two feet and how to speak up for themselves with a mighty roar. We often do this for less pay than teachers, but with the same self-less love and caring for our fellow man and fellow woman.

I know you are probably wondering, “What is this guy talking about?” Where is here going with this story?” Well, I am writing to share with you just how proud of you I am for the recent stand that was taken on the campus of my beloved GSU. I was excited to know that there are still students at GSU today with guts to stand up against the current administration for what you all believe are inadequacies at the university. I was most excited and surprised to learn that the recent protests at the university were sparked by members of the football team. Do you all know how big that was? The football team has never been known or seen as an entity on campus that stood up for anything. You know, like the SGA and the fraternities and sororities on campus. So, when I read where the football team took a stand against being treated like crap as it relates to traveling to away games and having to utilize a subpar practice facility with mold and peeling floors, I was like, “Yeah!” “There you go!” “You don’t have to take any of that!”

The boycott that members of the football team participated in naturally inspired other students to stand up and point out other issues at the university that need to be fixed. Trust me. I know that there are plenty of other “black-eyes” at the university that needed some attention. Contrary to what some of my fellow alumni may think or even believe, a good student protest is always good for any university. It reminds the administration of who the bosses really are on campus. It reminds them of just how powerful young people can be when they come together to do something to make much needed change not only in our society, but on a college campus as well. Yes, students. You are the bosses. Your tuition makes this true. If it were not for students bringing in their private money, student loans, outside scholarships, and pell grant money to pay tuition, the university would not exist.

I preached this reality for four years straight (1992-1996) when I was a student activist on at the university. I stood up and I spoke out against a lot of issues at the university at that time. I wrote my own campus newsletter entitled, “IN MY OPINION” by Rico Rivers that exposed a lot of the covered up dirt and the shined a light on the bad behavior and crooked practices in the administration as well as within the student body at that time. I guess you can say that I was like Geraldo Rivera on campus. I got the story and I told it unapologetically. However, for three two of those four years, I practically stood alone. In 1995, I became a part of a group of other like-minded students on campus and we called ourselves the Unity Committee. As a committee, we exposed the horrible conditions in the Cafeteria on campus. We took video footage of a dead mouse behind the ovens that cooked our food and a couple of flies in a huge pot of corn that was to be served on the following day for lunch. As the bosses of the university, you all have the power to make as many changes as needed as long as you stick together.

If you feel that the current President of the university is not functioning at a level that you deem acceptable, you can change this. If you believe that Grambling should be shown more respect by the current governor of Louisiana and that horrible board of trustees, regents, or whatever they are called now by way of funding for the university, you can change this. If you believe that the teaching staff can use some major improvement at the university, you can change this. If you believe that there are some buildings on campus that need major improving, you can change this. I say this because we were able to make some changes back in the day without Facebook, Twitter, Insta-gram and with very few students standing with us. In the current days of social media and Youtube, you have already shown just how powerful your movement can be. Moreover, the changes that we made back then and the changes that you will make today will benefit all those who are currently students at the university as well as those who will become students long after your class has graduated.

There are members of the current alumni who believe that the football team reacted emotionally and recklessly. Some even went on to insult the football team by stating that the team was not “smart enough” to organize this boycott on their own. These alumni even believe that the football team was somehow being controlled like puppets with the strings being pulled by someone who is actually the mastermind behind the boycott. I don’t’ share this theory. As one who has actually stood up and protested not only on Grambling’s campus, but in the community in my hometown of Memphis, TN, I think the football team and the members of the general student population stood up on their own out of a need for change.

There are members of the alumni who believe that the students could be harming their academic and professional futures for participating in the recent boycott and protests. Well, as I have stated, I protested my ass off and pissed a lot of people off for speaking my mind and taking a stand at the university. My professional career has been just fine. As a matter of fact, it’s getting even better as we enter 2014. I am so glad that Dr. King wasn’t a coward. I am so Glad Malcolm X. was not a coward. I am so glad that Harriet Tubman wasn’t a coward. I am so glad that Ida B. Wells wasn’t a coward. I am so glad that Jesus was not a coward. Students, when actual leaders take a stand, the cowards sit back and watch what happens and make comments, but never join in the fight. Yet, these same cowards get to benefit off of your activism.

I was hoping the boycott would have lasted the rest of the school year. The boycott of the Jackson State University game was good. However, boycotting the homecoming game this weekend and the upcoming Bayou Classic would really send the message of changes that needed to be made at the university can longer be ignored. Sadly, too many in the alumni seem to be more concerned about being able to pull off their pre-planned alumni parties and benefits galas as scheduled than the importance of the well-being of the current students. Everybody seems to be crying about money that the university is either losing or could be losing because of the football team refusing to play (which is chump change) compared to what the university can actually lose should students ever band together and they ALL withdraw from the university at once.
Trust me. There are at least 100 other HBCUs and hundreds of other actually well-funded white institutions of higher learning that the students can transfer to continue their academic endeavors and sports endeavors. Personally, I would not want to see this happen at Grambling State University, but the way the funding is being cut by this current governor of Louisiana, finding a new head coach for the football team will be least of the university’s worries. By the way, I have few questions. Why is the President of GSU so old? What century did the search committee leap back into to find this guy? Next, why in the hell was Doug Williams being paid $250,000 a year? Does the athletic program even generate that much money? Why is there special nine member group of GSU alumni trying to recruit Southern University old left overs? That former coach at Southern University is older than the current president at GSU. When did we ever as a university need to stoop to the level of digging through Southern University’s left overs for anything? Who are these nine idiots?

Finally, I want to say this about the letter that was written by Jackson State University and the lawsuit they are threatening to bring against Grambling. Nah. Who cares? They suck for doing that. Anyway, students at GSU, I think you all did a great thing in boycotting, protesting and getting your voices heard. However, I was disappointed to read on the news website ( about the two week suspension from The Gramblinite of opinion page editor, Kimberly Monroe, for organizing a student rally on campus. I am sure that she will be fine. I was also disappointed to read on the same website where online editor, David Lankster Sr., was fired from the Gramblinite after having tweeted statements from anonymous sources and photos of dilapidated facilities on campus. These are some of the pitfalls that come along with taking a stand. You lose some things, but you gain a lot more in return. The university attempted on at least two occasions to kick me out me. Still, I am so glad that there are students on campus like these two young people and the members of the football team who believe in standing up for what they believe. I hope this is not over. Still, enjoy the rest of the semester and the rest of your lives knowing that you stood up to make a difference in your life as well as in the lives of others.

To my fellow alumni who do not agree with the boycott and protest on campus, don’t criticize, belittle and insult our proven future leaders. Let’s support them. Let’s show them that we care more about their safety and wellbeing at the university than about what other people who are not Gramblinites have to say about this situation. Let’s show them that we care more about our beloved Grambling being treated the way it should be treated with regards to the memory of one of the most noted Gramblinites in history next to the founder, Charles P. Adams, Coach Eddie Robinson than making sure a football game is played at homecoming and at the Bayou Classic for the sake  of getting our drunken party on and reuniting with old cliques from our past days at the university.



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