By Melissa Spellman
Fall Intern 2023
New Journal and Guide
Norfolk State University celebrated Constitution Day on September 19 with a visit from Delegate Marcia Price of the 95th district of the Virginia House of Delegates who served as the keynote speaker.
Constitution Day celebrates the anniversary of the signing and ratification of the nation’s Constitution on September 17, 1787. Since 2004 all institutions receiving federal funding have been mandated to observe Constitution Day.
Price is a native of Newport News and the niece of Congressman Bobby Scott. “I’m a little girl from Newport News, Virginia. I never thought about running for office, but I got involved in campaigns, then I became a campaign manager, and then I became a campaign manager again, and then I was asked to run,” said Price.
She is the first Black out member of the LGBTQIA community serving in the 400 years of the Virginia General Assembly. “I have been successful in shaking every single table where I sit,” she said.
“Politics is personal,” said Price. She then asked the audience to define politics. Among the array of responses from NSU students were the movement within a governmental space, how the government interacts with its citizens, and who gets what, when, and how.
Price shared her definition.
“Politics is a group of people deciding the rules under which they will operate.” She explained that politics are rules that govern a group and that we see politics in every area of our lives such as Greek organizations, churches, and even friend groups.
Price continued, “So when I hear people say I’m not into politics, I hear that I’m okay with other people making rules that will govern my life without [me] being involved at all and that is why I am here.”
With that powerful statement, Price set the stage for discussion driven engagement with her audience.
In Frederick Douglass-like fashion of “What to the Negro is the 4th of July?,” Price questioned students, “What to the HBCU student is the Constitution?”
She delved deeper asking, “How does the word “Constitution” make you feel?
One NSU scholar gave a heartfelt reply, “It makes me feel unincluded. It makes me feel like change needs to happen. Especially since it was created in a time when we weren’t considered or thought about as full people or individuals. It makes me feel like my individuality as an American has somewhat been stripped away.”
Price added to the conversation that although the 55 Delegates did not have Black people in mind when writing the Constitution, they also did not have in mind “a room full of beautiful Black intuitive students at a school that was built just for us where professors and administration could significantly pour into your lives, so you could become the best you.
“Change is still possible even if you are not a part of this document,” said Price.
Price posed questions to NSU students citing lines from the preamble. “What does a perfect union look like to you?” she asked. The preamble consists of the first 52 words of the Constitution written in 1787.
She challenged students to think critically.
“Did the authors have you in mind? What do the words ‘establish justice,’ ‘domestic tranquility,’ ‘general welfare,’ ‘secure the blessings of liberty’ mean to HBCU students today?”
Students fueled a discussion with the consensus that while the Constitution was written as an aspirational document it does not serve all its citizens equally. Some students felt the Constitution was meant to oppress rather than uphold its promises.
Price contended, “What if it wasn’t even written for oppression because it wasn’t even written with you in mind? Is that better or worse for you? Does that make you feel better?”
The conversation between Price and the students was passionate and meaningful. The energy in the room was thick with sincerity and an ambitious hunger for change.
“Reform is the most that we can get from the inside. Transformation is what you all can do from the outside,” said Price.
She told students that “you all have so much power to make culture shifts and paradigm shifts from the outside that will change the nature of the conversation that the 140 members of the General Assembly are having in Virginia [and] that 435 voting members of Congress are talking about.”
“We the people must be the ones to make the Constitution relevant for us.”
Price charged students to not limit themselves to the confines of the campus or to put their heads in the sand.
“Now that you recognize the hypocrisy, what we can do is become the people in those positions,” said Price.
Constitution Day coincides with National Citizenship Day which promotes civic participation.
“We need your voice right now,” said Price.
In closing she encouraged students to know their power and use civic participation as a strategy.
“Whatever your major,” she said, “use your individual talent to find your lane.”
As for the Constitution and to the Spartans of NSU, Price bestowed one final gem, “Read it, learn it, find the words that are not relevant to your life and let’s do the work to make sure this document does work for ‘we the people’ including ourselves.”