TC Grad: Rockell Metcalf,’85, Ignites Attendees to ‘Be Their Own Basquiat’ at Black History Month Convocation

In a spirited exhibit of esteem and remembrance, Talladega College’s Black History Month Convocation took center stage at the DeForest Chapel last Thursday, February 8th. The event, brimming with ‘Dega pride,’ gave homage to the rich history of Black History Month and the resilience of African American culture.

Rockell Metcalf, ’85, gave advice to students on creating their own life masterpiece

As Degans filled the historic building from one famous stained-glass window to the next, a sense of anticipation and reverence permeated through the venue. The theme for this year’s convocation, “A Masterpiece Unfolding: Of Big Dreams, Bold Strokes & Bright Futures,” fully nested itself in the ethos of the gathering. The program included speeches from student leaders, including Junior mass media major Kyle Horn, who delivered a warm welcome to the Talladega community, briefly highlighting the founder of Black History Month, scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

Actress Epatha Merkeson and Talladega College Trustee Essye B. Miller

“[Black History Month] was the brainchild of Dr. Woodson, who was born in 1875 to former enslaved persons. He recognized that the accomplishments of black people were more than standard textbooks. He sought to expose a broader acknowledgment of black achievement,” Horn stated.

Junior business administration major from the island of the Bahamas, Jelissa Bocage, eloquently articulated some of the journey of the origin of Black History Month during the program as well. “President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976 during a celebration of the United States’ fifth centennial. He urged Americans to ‘seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,’” she quoted.

President Vincent presents commemorative art as a thank you to Rockell Metcalf, ’85. From left to right: Talladega College First Lady Kim Wilson Vincent, President Gregory J. Vincent, Rockell Metcalf, ’85, and Epatha Merkeson.

Musical performances were given by the newly named executive director of choral activities and associate professor of music, Dr. Lloyd Mallory, Jr., whose soul-stirring musical rendition of “Walk About Zion” echoed down the halls of the chapel as attendees sat in reflection.

An enlightening and humorous introduction of the keynote was given by close friend and acclaimed actress, Ms. S. Epatha Merkerson. Before her remarks, Merkerson recognized “a pillar of black history,” Alabama’s first black federal judge, Mr. U.W. Clemon, was in attendance with his family. Merkerson reflected on her and Metcalf’s twenty-year friendship and shared moments that proved what a giant he is to the community.

“He [Metcalf] is the real deal,” Merkerson told the crowd.

Rockell Metcalf, a prominent graduate from Talladega College’s class of 1985 who is currently serving as Vice President and Chief Counsel of Marketing at Prudential Financial, started by sharing the last memory he had as a student at Talladega College, which had ties to the father of a civil rights juggernaut.

“Ironically the last time I was in the DeForest Chapel, it was the fall of my senior year, and the guest speaker at the time was the late great Martin Luther King, Sr. I recall that his words were riveting and awe-inspiring and what you would expect from a man so socially significant,” Metcalf said.

However, a more poignant highlight of his speech was his sentiment to students that their lives 
are at the beginning of a realm of endless possibilities that can be colored any way they choose.

“You, in many ways, are like a blank canvas of possibilities. Your bold strokes, your subtle lines, your color palettes have yet to be manifested,” he said.

He challenged attendees to find ways to break through the noise and show up distinctively akin to Basquiat and Michaelangelo.

“In pursuing your dreams, how will you transform your blank canvas of life into a unique masterpiece? While you have exciting ideas for your masterpiece, the world may only see you as a block of uninteresting marble. You suggest only potential. The Italian sculptor, Michelangelo, was presented with a block of marble, but in it he saw the Statue of David. What is inside your block of marble? Know that you are part of an institution that has since its establishment in 1867 birthed forth distinctive and beautiful masterpieces that have contributed to this society,” Metcalf remarked.

Metcalf’s other accomplishments include an LL.M. from Columbia Law School, where he was a part of the Student Honors Program of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a J.D. from Mitchell Hamline School of Law as Executive Director of the Law Review. After more than two decades from his last visit to the institution, his address ignited the audience and served as a battle cry for reflecting on past struggles while also challenging the attendees to dream distinctively in hopes of a brighter future.

The program concluded with remarks given by Talladega College President Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, who underscored Metcalf’s message that the students’ brushwork done at Talladega College will serve as the foundation for their own personal Mona Lisas.

“Today, we heard a message of inspiration, of culture and authenticity. I encourage you [students] to be bold and take advantage of every opportunity you have at Talladega College because it will prepare you to create your own masterpieces,” he said.

In essence, the Black History Month Convocation was not merely a commemoration of the past, but a testament to the enduring spirit of resilience, resistance, and triumph that defines the African American experience. It stood as a reminder that while the road ahead may be fraught with challenges, it is also illuminated by the enduring legacy of those who came before us, guiding us toward a future defined by unity, equality, and justice for all.