Bonnie St. John, the first African-American to medal in Winter Paralympics competition, joined TCNJ on Feb. 19 in celebration of Black History Month.
Though she had her right leg amputated at the age of five, her contagious spirit, determination, and drive propelled her through several extraordinary accomplishments throughout her lifetime.
She won three medals as a ski racer at the 1984 Winter Paralympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria; graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University; received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, and was appointed as Director for Human Capital Issues on the White House National Economic Council by President Bill Clinton.
Today, she’s a best-selling author and renowned speaker, and while St. John did recount her numerous accomplishments to the TCNJ audience, her main message was of her ability to succeed and to inspire others to do the same.
ICYMI, here are three key takeaways:
Black History is American History.
When St. John first heard about Black History Month as a child, she admitted it seemed “a little goofy.” Why wouldn’t this information just be found in her history textbooks? To her, Black history is not its own separate category, but a piece of American history as a whole. “Breaking barriers is something we do together,” she said.
We need to do it together.
For St. John, unity is a main theme of Black History Month. She created a hashtag — #CrossRaceAllies — to make the point that while slogans exist for specific races, there wasn’t one that links them all together. She hopes to make the idea go viral. “I’m talking to a group of college students,” she laughed, “you guys should be able to make this happen!”
We can all come out on top.
She asserts that people must learn to support each other’s differences in order to promote change. “All of us, as Americans, can go further as cross-race allies; this goes both ways. We will all get stronger and we will all come out as champions.”
—Alexandra Mauriello ’19