Charlotte, N.C./May 19, 2023 – Graduates and their families joined JCSU faculty and staff the evening of Friday, May 19, 2023, in the Jane M. Smith Memorial Church for the University’s sesquicentennial Baccalaureate Service featuring a sermon from the Rev. Dr. L. Bernard Jakes.
The Baccalaureate Service, an annual tradition within the Christian faith, is a religious send-off to graduates who are transitioning from the life of a student to that of a professional. Jakes’ powerful sermon focused on preserving the history of African- and Black Americans.
The scripture from the Book of Joshua focused on the Biblical narrative of Joshua and the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan River on Dry Land. Those who crossed the river took stones as a memorial to remember what God had brought them through.
“The stones in the text were purposed as a memorial to remind those who crossed the Jordan River on dry land how God brought them over and how they did not die in the Jordan River. As God was with Moses at the parting of the Red Sea, God was with Joshua,” said Jakes. “The same God who walked with the graduates of this institution 150 years ago is the same God who walked with you during your four years. Even if it took you 20 years, I just need you to understand that God is the same God who exercises His power to roll back what could have been your watery grave.”
Jakes charged the students to never forget the histories and heritages of the Black community, especially in a time when the teaching of Critical Race Theory is under attack, most notably by Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida.
“You don’t need a bill to tell you what you can and cannot discuss,” he said. “The proverbial stones of JCSU serve as a memorial that God is still making a way for this institution. God is not done with JCSU. So even if racist white people don’t think it is important to teach Critical Race Theory or don’t want you in their PWI’s (predominately white institutions), there is still a stone in place on Beatties Ford Road. that God continues to shine on.”
Jakes serves as the senior pastor of West Point Baptist Church in Chicago. Since beginning his ministry, Jakes has assisted in the establishment of Operation H.O.P.E. Food and Clothing Pantry, the Domestic Violence and Advocacy Ministry and the development of the West Point Village.
He has a rich history in public service, where he has utilized his voice to speak truth to power regarding social justice, social action and social accountability. His passion, commitment and unwavering voice for social justice have led to policymakers seeking his voice on statewide issues such as sensible gun laws, same-gender marriage, increasing the minimum wage and education funding reform.
This commitment to justice led to his induction to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of International Preachers of Morehouse College.
Jakes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Elmhurst University in Elmhurst, Ill.; a Master of Arts degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.; and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Graduating seniors Jayla DeBoles, Jamerya Kelley, Caleb Davis and Brandi Barron participated in the program by offering prayers, reading scripture and introducing the speaker. Musical performances featured the JCSU Concert and Alumni Choirs.
President Clarence D. Armbrister also offered words of encouragement, charging students to remember their past and present to help propel them and the generations to come after them into a bright future.
“Remember those who have prayed for you both in season and out of season,” Armbrister said. “Remember those who have sacrificed for you. Remember you are becoming a part of a unique legacy being handed down from one JCSU giant to another. And lastly, remember as you move forward to turn around and give a helping hand to those behind you using the wisdom you’ve garnered here.”
Commencement Exercises will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 21 in Bojangles Coliseum, where graduates will cross the stage for the conferring of their degrees after which they will be recognized officially as alumni. The ceremony will be streamed online for those who cannot attend in person.