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BCC’s Onya Gardner Reflects on Black History Month

Onya Gardner

As we celebrate Black History Month (BHM) at BCC, we want to look within our organization and learn from our Black leaders, students, athletes, and staff. The first of these remarkable people is 17-year BCC veteran leader Onya Gardner, Dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development.

When asked what BHM means to her, she quickly pointed out that it’s not just for black people. “It’s for every one of every color and background to recognize our differences and the beauty that comes from them,” said Onya.

A few years ago, when she took on new leadership roles in her career and sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.®, Onya said she learned more about the people who helped pave the way for her. “We all know about the very famous Black Americans who helped shape monumental change, but I realized there were so many others that we don’t talk about and should,” she said. “For example, brands like Hidden Valley were created by Black Americans. We also invented traffic lights, folding chairs, automatic elevator doors, and many other things we often take for granted. Black History Month is a time to reflect on and be grateful for everyone who did not allow adversity to stand in the way of making a difference.

Closer to home, Onya speaks proudly of her father. “He graduated from Bolivia High School and was one of the first Black Americans to attend the first year of integration,” she said. While it wasn’t easy for him, he stayed the course, got good grades, and played basketball. Later he became an English and History teacher, and then an Assistant Principal. He worked at Leland Middle, South Brunswick, and North Brunswick High Schools and retired after a long and fulfilling career.”

Onya has special ties to her sorority and currently serves as president of the local chapter Alpha Psi Omega. Founded at Howard University in 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha is the oldest Greek-lettered organization established by African American college-educated women. “This is extra special because my mom is also a member and serves as the sorority’s International Secretary,” she said. “In 2023 AKA established the FIRST, Black-owned, woman-led, sorority-based, digital banking financial institution in the history of the United States, For Members Only Credit Union. As the International Secretary, my mom’s signature is on the founding documents. I’ve watched my mom continue the sorority’s 116-year mission of scholarship, sisterhood, and service to all mankind. She inspires me to do the same. She is my most important role model.”

While she is grateful for BHM as it is a moment dedicated to remembering, learning, and celebrating, she works hard all year to do that. “I stay involved, take on new roles, and always remain authentically Onya,” she said. “Sometimes, I’m the only Black woman on a Board of Directors, but that’s okay. I take advantage of my seat at the table by participating and taking the opportunity to share my perspective. I also bring others with me, helping to broaden our reach and contribute more fully.”

If you haven’t yet met Onya, please reach out to her at [email protected]. You will find a warm and inviting leader with a great smile who dedicates herself daily to helping all students succeed.

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