Student preserves the legacy of a journalist and civil rights icon at cultural center internship
By Rebecca Maxon
October 26, 2021 — When journalist and civil-rights leader T. Thomas Fortune’s home in Red Bank, N.J., was set for demolition back in 2016, many community members joined together to save the home. It was then that Florham senior Suubi Mondesir jumped to action. “A group of concerned citizens wanted to save the house as a cultural center. I started a blog and social media efforts to gain support,” she says.
Today, the communication and government and law double major balances school with volunteering at the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, which opened in 2019.
Born into slavery in Jackson County, Fla., Fortune educated himself and, after being freed, worked many jobs — from a page in the state senate to an apprentice printer at a Jacksonville newspaper. In 1875, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study journalism. Fortune moved to New York City in 1879. Over the next two decades, he worked his way up to the editorship of The New York Age, becoming known as an influential Black writer as well as a trailblazing civil-rights activist.
Mondesir writes and sends out press releases for the Foundation and manages its Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“I also lead the T. Thomas Fortune Tellers Program, which engages young people to become social-justice advocates for a better future.” Program participants — students in grades 8–12 — gain a deeper understanding of social justice, meeting with professional artists, historians and community leaders and attending workshops.
Mondesir calls her boss, Gilda Rogers, executive director of the foundation, a role model. “She is an inspired woman who helps a lot of young people in the community find their passions,” she says.
Working under Rogers, she’s putting her journalism skills and interest in law and government to use.
Her foundation work during the summer, including writing articles for the Fortune Noteworthy Newsletter, fulfilled an undergraduate internship requirement.
Mondesir’s passion for journalism developed as a teen in her high-school creative writing arts program. From there she enrolled in the Boyd Journalism Diversity Summer Workshop at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. “I learned different types of writing and developed my passion. We also learned about other media such as documentaries.”
In the years since, her commitment to journalism fused with another interest — social justice. “It’s very emotional for me to see people who look like me being treated differently,” she says.
“Society could be so much more accepting — we don’t have to be as divided as we are now.”
She believes deeply in restorative justice and in the reform of the criminal justice system and plans to continue studying the intersection of journalism, social justice and law in graduate school.
“I am hoping to be accepted into the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University [New York].” Mondesir is considering a future law career.
One thing she is sure of: “I want to continue to use my voice to change the things I can. We are always able to do something — nothing is too small. Coming together we can make a much bigger difference than we can on our own.”