Kean University Launches Visionary New Center for Africana Studies
It will develop educational programming to help implement Amistad curriculum for K-12 students across New Jersey
UNION, N.J. — In a significant stride toward educational equity and cultural understanding, Kean University, the state’s urban research university, today announced the creation of a new Center for Africana Studies on the first day of Black History Month.
Housed within the College of Education, the Center is designed to become a leading resource for scholarly research, community engagement and educational programming, particularly in support of New Jersey’s Amistad curriculum for K-12 students.
Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. said the Center aligns with the University’s core values as an anchor institution in New Jersey.
“This new center epitomizes the University’s commitment to equity and to serving our state, particularly our urban communities,” said Repollet, who leads one of the most diverse universities in the country. “All young people deserve to know their past. We are dedicated to establishing the best, most effective curriculum and programming to ensure they have a full understanding of history to help them shape the future.”
The Center’s initial focus will be to develop educational programming to help public school districts implement the state’s Amistad curriculum, which mandates teaching about the African slave trade, slavery in America, and the many contributions Africans have made to American society.
“The establishment of Kean University’s Center for Africana Studies marks a significant stride in our continual commitment to promoting educational equity and empowering communities statewide,” said Shavonda Sumter ’96, Chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. “As a Kean alumna, I take great pride in witnessing my alma mater lead this crucial initiative to deepen our collective understanding and appreciation of African heritage, enhancing the cultural landscape of the State for the benefit of all.”
Sancha K. Gray, Ed.D., acting dean of the College of Education and former superintendent of the Asbury Park school district, said many districts struggle to find the resources and training to support the Amistad curriculum, which dates back more than 20 years. The Center will begin offering training for teachers later this year.
“This Center will be a building block for cultural understanding in our state, and I am so pleased that the College of Education will be a part of its work,” Gray said. “As the state’s urban research university, Kean will draw on expertise from the University and across the nation to help New Jersey students receive an equitable and inclusive education.”
David Jefferson Jr., Ed.D., who previously led the University’s faith-based initiatives, will serve as the Center’s interim director, bringing a wealth of community experience to the role. The Center’s inaugural event will be held on campus on Wednesday, February 21, and will be open to the public. More details will be shared in the coming weeks.
“The new Center for Africana Studies provides an excellent opportunity for Kean to be the source and authority on the overwhelmingly rich history of African Americans,” said Linda Lewis, vice chair of the Kean University Board of Trustees and a retired educator. “The Amistad Act has been one of the most neglected yet essential pieces of legislation. Its implementation in an organized, collaborative and cohesive manner is long overdue. The Center will make an amazing contribution to learning across the K-12 curriculum.”
The Center is not only an academic initiative but also a community catalyst, set to offer cultural and historical programming, including traveling exhibits, to a wide audience including educators, students and the general public in New Jersey.
Donna M. Chiera ’76, ’96 M.A., president of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, says the Center underscores the critical role that universities serve in partnering with and bolstering the state’s K-12 school system.
“This collaborative partnership between higher education and K-12 institutions sets a standard for how we can collectively offer a more inclusive education that reflects the unique experiences and histories of all students,” Chiera said. “It is remarkable that Kean is utilizing its wealth of knowledge and expertise to not only support its own community but also to provide invaluable resources to K-12 teachers and students across New Jersey.”
In addition to its community work, the Center will gather scholars in support of Kean’s minor in Africana Studies, which is housed in the Division of General Education and Interdisciplinary Studies. The director of the minor, Kalasia Ojeh, Ph.D., will serve as a member of the Center’s advisory board, which will also include other notable African scholars.
Kean Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David S. Birdsell, Ph.D., said Kean is committed to bringing its expertise in developing culturally responsible pedagogy and programming to all young people across New Jersey and beyond.
“This initiative is a bridge between academia and the wider community, enriching our collective understanding of history and culture,” Birdsell said. “It’s about creating a more inclusive narrative that resonates with all students, laying the groundwork for a future where diversity and understanding are at the heart of education.”