Roshawn Boyce ’95 shines a light on social injustices.
By Shirley Del Valle
Roshawn Boyce ’95 has always had a passion for social activism, and that passion ignited and flourished while she was at John Jay College. As a student, she joined her peers in protesting budget cuts and a tuition hike, taking part in student sit-ins and marches down 59th Street. “Protesting the tuition hike during the 1989-1990 academic year was one of my most memorable John Jay experiences. I was one of the students who took over North Hall and Haaren Hall,” explains Boyce. She credits the experience with kicking her advocacy gene into high gear. “John Jay is where I discovered my passion for social justice,” says Boyce. “It’s where I learned that you have to fight for what’s right.”
During her time at John Jay, Boyce also faced battles on a personal front. Her Sickle Cell disease took a toll on her energy level and her desire to participate in activities led to disagreements at home. “I was kicked out of my house at 19 years old because my mother grew tired of my debating her rules. I wanted to participate in fundraisers and marches, and mobilize others for Mayor David Dinkins’ campaign. And, she wanted me to stay home and rest,” says Boyce. “For a short period of time I was homeless and had to figure out where to live and how I was going to pay rent and buy groceries.”
With help from a friend, Boyce found a place to live, and worked multiple jobs, all while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at John Jay. “I knew education was the key to getting the career I wanted. So I got myself together, and began to focus on completing my degree.” She’s now working in Human Resources for the New York City Department of Education and while that takes up much of her time, Boyce still finds ways to advocate on behalf of others.
Serving as a Member-at-Large at the NAACP’s Brooklyn branch, Boyce has helped train the group’s youngest members—teaching them how to engage with communities, and run their elections, committees, and education programs. She also had an integral role in mobilizing NAACP members after the death of Trayvon Martin.
As a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, one of the nine historically Black Greek Letter organizations that make up the national Pan-Hellenic Council, she works with communities on the ground level, assessing what their needs are and providing support. “Sigma Gamma Rho takes great pride in taking care of and uplifting communities. We want to help the next generation.”
When Sandra Bland, a Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sister, was found dead in a prison cell following a routine traffic stop in 2015, Boyce jumped into action. She helped raise funds for the investigation into Bland’s death, and spoke of Bland and the HBO documentary Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, to every one she came across. “Soror Sandra Bland represented me. As black women, we understand our past and work hard to write our own futures. We are academically educated as well as historically educated. Yet horrific things continue to happen to us,” says Boyce. “Sandra Bland’s story is important to tell.”
Boyce, along with Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority—of which Bland’s mother and sister are also members—are working tirelessly to keep Bland’s story top of mind. “Our goal is to make sure everyone knows her name. At each meeting, in every discussion we have, to anyone we meet, we tell her story,” she says. “Sandra’s family still needs our support and I believe we still need to fight for justice in her case. If my years of advocacy work have taught me anything, it’s that you never give up—and I don’t plan to.”