Sen. Troy Singleton speaks at Rowan College at Burlington County for Black History Month

Singleton said celebrations such as Black History Month showed the importance of facing struggles and embracing diversity.

RCBC student Kathryn Valme sits on stage with state Sen. Troy Singleton (D) of New Jersey’s Seventh Legislative District.

“Black History Month is every month in my life, because I don’t get a month off from being black, but for all of us — it’s a celebration of our diversity and our strength that makes us who we are.”

Those are the words state Sen. Troy Singleton used to describe Black History Month in his opening remarks during “An Evening with Senator Troy Singleton” this week at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Singleton, who represents New Jersey’s Seventh Legislative District, was on hand at the college as part of RCBC’s month-long series of events from the college’s African American Cultural Committee.

The event began with Singleton reflecting on his upbringing, education and life in politics.

Singleton, who was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, later moved with his family to Willingboro, where he graduated high school and college before going on to serve as part of the legislative staff for the district he would eventually come to represent in the state Assembly and later in the state Senate.

In speaking about Black History Month and the struggles facing the nation today, Singleton said Americans could not continue to ignore having conversations concerning issues such as race, income equality and LGBTQ support.

“So often we’re afraid to have those conversations because some of us may feel defensive, but if we are to move our country forward and move each other forward, we have to have those types of conversations,” Singleton told the audience. “We have to embrace and love the diversity of our country and who we are.”

Singleton noted that facing those struggles and embracing that diversity is why celebrations such as Black History Month were important to him.

“We don’t build this great mosaic that is America without each of us having played a part, so as we make our way through Black History Month, I think it’s important for us to celebrate all things that bring us together.”

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D) of New Jersey’s Seventh Legislative District speaks at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Following Singleton’s opening remarks, RCBC student Kathryn Valme took the stage to ask him questions about areas such as his personal inspirations, the forces behind his success and advice he would give to young people aspiring to a career in politics.

When asked how it felt to be the first African American from Burlington County to win a seat in the Senate, Singleton said that while he was happy to assume what he described as the “awesome responsibility” of serving as a senator, he was also frustrated the county had not had someone of color serve in the Senate long before his time.

“It’s humbling, but it also shows that we have a lot of work to do,” Singleton said.

Singleton also took questions from the crowd, with one student asking what those young people not interested in serving in politics could do to make a positive difference in their community.

To that, Singleton spoke of volunteerism, of which he said the need is great in local communities.

Pointing to spending time at a domestic violence shelter, helping an organization such as Habitat for Humanity or even mentoring younger children, Singleton said volunteerism would reward young people far more than almost anything else they could do with their spare time.

That advice harkened back to a story Singleton told earlier in the event, where he credits a janitor at his school back in Germantown for putting him on a “path of responsibility” by telling him that he was “too smart” to not make more of his life.

“That’s not just a black thing,” Singleton said. “It doesn’t matter where your background is or where you come from — there is someone who paid a price for us to be where we are at, and we have this obligation to make sure we give back,” Singleton said.

Also speaking briefly at the event was RCBC President Michael Cioce, who thanked RCBC’s African American Cultural Committee for arranging Singleton’s appearance and other events throughout the month.

“One of the college community’s greatest strengths is our diversity and our ability to support and celebrate one another,” Cioce said.

Remaining events in the college’s celebration of Black History Month include:

· Fashion Noir, A Cultural Explosion, — on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. in the Student Success Center at the RCBC Mt. Laurel Campus. This fashion show, which is free and open to the public, will feature designs by local and national African American designers.

· Soulful Lunch — on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. in the Culinary Arts Center at RCBC’s Mt. Holly Campus. This event features a demonstration by South Jersey native Tim Witcher, who won the “Let Them Eat Koffee Kake!” episode of the Food Network’s “Rewrapped.” Afterward, RCBC Culinary Arts and Hospitality students will serve a soul food-inspired lunch. Tickets are $15 per person and can be purchased at www.rcbc.edu/aacc.

· Community Choir Sing-Off — on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. in the Votta Hall Auditorium at the RCBC Mt. Laurel Campus. This free event will include choirs from throughout Burlington County to celebrate unity and African American culture through song.

For more information about these events, visit www.rcbc.edu/aacc.