Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin Brings Message of Leadership and Purpose to Forum on Inclusive Excellence at Claflin University

Mar 02, 2017

“Claflin has played and continues to play a tremendous role in shaping this community, the state and the world,” said Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin Monday at the Vice President’s Forum on Inclusive Excellence held at Claflin.  “We all believe that universities should be a microcosm of society.  What has happened and is happening at this university is rare, unique and special.  You are being prepared for some incredible opportunities at a very high level.  Fighting for inclusion and justice and being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice is in Claflin’s DNA.  You need to know you have some very large shoes to fill.”

Benjamin was the keynote speaker at the forum which was held in the Arthur Rose Museum.  The forum was presented by the Division of Student Development and Office of Student Life at Claflin.  He addressed an audience of administrators, faculty, student leaders and guests from the Orangeburg community.  The purpose of the event was to highlight Claflin’s ability to incorporate the diverse backgrounds, traditions, and experiences of faculty, staff, and students in realizing the goal of an inclusive community that values excellence in scholarship, teaching and learning, and student development. 

“As many of you know, Mayor Benjamin is not a stranger to Orangeburg,” said Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler in his welcoming remarks. “His family has deep roots in Orangeburg.  “I am not all surprised at his remarkable leadership and how the city of Columbia has progressed and developed during his tenure as mayor.”

Since being elected mayor in a record turnout election in April 2010, Benjamin has made it his mission to create in Columbia the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial city in the Southeast.  Re-elected by a 30 percent margin in November 2013, Benjamin's administration has been characterized by his firm belief in Columbia's potential and intense focus on job creation. In his first term alone, his leadership helped cut unemployment in the metro by roughly half and secured billions of dollars in new regional capital investment in the midst of a national recession.

Benjamin’s message included references to historic moments in South Carolina that helped change American culture and race relations.

“Sarah Mae Flemming was not looking for a fight or to become part of history when on June 22, 1954 she sat in a segregated section on a bus in Columbia,” said Benjamin. “Who knew what was on her mind.”

The incident took place when only a few weeks earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that “separate but equal” doctrines were unconstitutional. Flemming eventually filed suit against SCE&G which operated the city’s bus transportation.  The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. overturned a previous decision in South Carolina and ruled that “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional. 

“The ruling was the foundation for the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. led by Rosa Parks and launched the career of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Benjamin.  “Flemming did not see it coming, but neither did they.  She was not looking for history – but when history found her she chose to act.”

Other participants of the program were Devin Randolph, assistant vice president for Student Development and Services at Claflin and Dominique Riggins, president of Claflin’s Student Government Association.

“I never had to face the hardships that so many had to endure during the Civil Rights Movement.  But we are here because of what they did,” Benjamin said.  “The Sarah Mae Flemmings and others fought, bled, cried and died for us.  Because of their commitment to diversity and inclusion, we have the opportunity to enjoy what they fought for today.

But now we are at the vanguard for justice, peace and diversity and inclusion. And your commitment to these principles matters now more than ever,” said Benjamin. “You can provide hope -- and calm the fears of those among us who live in poverty and are shut out of the economic mainstream.  We need visionary leaders who are passionate and committed to solving the problems that will help build a better world and a better nation.”

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