Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ
Dean's Secretary, College of Arts & Sciences
Mrs. Brenda Knight. Many of our conversations felt like time could've been standing still, and there wouldn't be enough of it to glean from the knowledge and history that she has. In her 51 years at Seton Hall thus far, she's seen countless changes and transformations, and has supported many students throughout the years, helping to guide them and navigate the college space. What I took from my time with her is that her life has been full of grit, faith, and love. It is an honor to share more of her story.
Mrs. Knight graduated from South Side High School (now known as Malcolm X Shabazz High School). She went on to the University of Wisconsin, returning to New Jersey after a year and began to work full time. As she talked about the years prior to joining the Seton Hall family, she briefly mentioned living through the Newark riots, which took place during the summer of 1967, noting that it wasn't the best of times given the civil rights activity that had been taking place in the late 60s-70s. "Some of the remnants of the riots still exist unfortunately," she said. "We see different things transpiring even today which were happening then, and we have to talk about it. If we don't talk about it, then people will try to bury things like it never existed." She paused. "There has been some progress, but there could be and should be more. Hopefully in the years to come there will be."
We transitioned into her time at Seton Hall. Knight joined the University in 1971. "Those were the days we had two people working in our human resources office. I applied in the accounting department," she said. Almost immediately Knight began to immerse herself in the community. Not only did she continue her education, taking classes on campus, but she also became heavily involved in various meetings whether they were for campus organizations, events, or committees. She explained, "I was learning the nuances [of my job], but then also meeting students. I always wanted to see what [the school was] doing, why they were doing it, and how I could be a part of it. That's why I became a member of the collective bargaining we had at the time. It was called the Staff Employees Association of which I am currently the chief shop steward. I am responsible for all three campuses."
After a year in the accounting department, Knight moved into the Black Studies department in 1972 and was there for the next 13 years. She spoke very highly of her time there and felt that she learned more than she did in the Newark school system… not just from the professors, but also individuals that came to render lectures and to whom some honorary degrees and awards were bestowed. "It was so rewarding," she stated. "The first honorary degree was given by the Black Studies department to Alex Hayley on campus. There's true history that goes with all of what transpired during those years and that can't go unnoticed. Some individuals came because there was a course taught by Dr. Julia Miller called 'The Black Woman.'" Knight explained that Dr. Miller also had individuals such as Betty Shabazz, Hazel Scott, and Wilma Rudolph speak to classes. "We got Wilma because she and Coach John Moon were connected… Gill Noble came; James Farmer from SNCC; Donald Tucker would come often," Knight said. "It was just phenomenal. I will never forget those people and those times."
Over the years, Knight continued to work in tandem with admin and faculty both within the University, like Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, and beyond, collaborating on various initiatives and programs. In 1984, the Black Studies department was incorporated into the College of Arts and Sciences, and Knight's position switched to part-time. To remain on a full-time basis, she moved into the office of the dean of the college in 1986 where she currently works today. "The fulfillment of working with all students is something I would never ever ever give up," she said. Knight shared that she would serve as a surrogate mom to the students who came to campus. "Anything they needed," she explained. "I take a lot of pride in doing that. I didn't consider what I did a nine to five job. It was truly community and family oriented on the campus."
With a strong desire to remain involved, Knight extended her time to additional roles like becoming the adviser for the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The student-led chapter was one of the first to be created on a college campus and in 2013 received the Student Organization of the Year award. Knight has seen NCNW through many trials and successes and has helped the young women of the student group to remain grounded in education, as well as staying connected to the community through service and volunteering.
I listened intently as Knight continued to reflect on the ways Seton Hall evolved from the creation of organizations like NCNW to the ways the campus has transformed over the years in its appearance. She spoke about how grateful she is to have been recognized over the years for her service to the campus community, and even shared with me her Seton Hall love story with her husband, alumnus Melvin "Mel" Knight '72. To that union, they have two sons who followed in their father's footsteps and went on to be in the NBA. The eldest, Brevin, is now a TV analyst for the Memphis Grizzlies. The youngest, Brandin, is now an associate coach for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Mrs. Knight what has kept her going after 51 years at the University. She said, "If there is work to be done then that's my why. I'm not tired yet. I am grateful for every day my feet hit the floor… those are the kinds of things which make it worthwhile for me." Speaking more on service, she said, "That goes back to when I was in church. That's the impetus for my wanting to be a part of so much, and of being service oriented. At that time, my parents taught us we had a voice. I am never going to back down from the principles [they gave] me, and that's if you can help somebody along the way then why wouldn't you. That's what we do. It takes a village, and I have been able to be a part of the village of so many of the students on campus. That is part of the whole idea of giving back. Each one, teach one. So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it."