Honorary Degree Recipients
Ras J. Baraka and Savion Glover
Ras J. Baraka
Ras J. Baraka, the 40th and current mayor of Newark, New Jersey, has been an accomplished civic leader, educator and poet for nearly three decades.
As principal of Newark’s Central High School from 2007 until 2013, he was a dedicated advocate for student success. Since becoming mayor in 2014, he has opened nine “Centers of Hope,” which offer city residents a menu of recreational, educational and cultural enrichment programs.
Baraka served as a member of the Newark Municipal Council from 2002 to 2006 and was concurrently appointed deputy mayor in 2002, a position he held until 2005. As mayor, he has received praise for his focus on education initiatives, public safety and neighborhood redevelopment. He was recognized as “Most Valuable Mayor” among The Nation’s 2015 “Most Valuable Progressives” and as one of Ebony magazine’s “Power 100.” His commitment to public safety led him to create the city’s first-ever Police Civilian Complaint Review Board and to unify the police and fire departments into a single Department of Public Safety. His “Occupy the Block” program works with local residents to disrupt criminal activities in high-crime neighborhoods.
He is also an accomplished author who dedicated his latest work, Black Girls Learn Love Hard, to his late sister, Shani Baraka. Baraka’s spoken poetry has been featured on The Fugee’s 1996 album The Score and Lauryn Hill’s 1998 breakout hit album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Born and raised in Newark and educated in the Newark Public Schools, Baraka received a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Howard University and a master’s degree in education supervision from St. Peter’s University. The father of three daughters, he and his family currently reside in Newark.
Legendary tap dancer, choreographer, actor and teacher Savion Glover first captivated audiences as a 10-year-old, when he made his Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated musical The Tap Dance Kid. Heralded by The New Yorker as “the greatest tap virtuoso of our time, perhaps of all time,” the Newark, New Jersey, native has popularized a unique style of tap known as “hitting.”
The youngest person ever to receive a full scholarship to the Newark Community School of the Arts, Glover took his first tap lessons at age 7. With his performance in Black and Blue at age 15, he became one of the youngest performers to ever be nominated for a Tony Award. Roles in Jelly’s Last Jam on Broadway and the movie Tap followed.
Glover choreographed and starred in the hit musical Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, for which he won the 1996 Tony Award for Best Choreography. In 2016, he returned to Broadway, earning a Tony nomination for his choreography for Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
Between 1990 and 1995, regular appearances on Sesame Street delighted and inspired a generation of young people, while his film credits include appearances in Bamboozled and the TV biopic Bojangles. Glover also choreographed dances performed by the penguin Mumble in the animated hits Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two.
Over the years, Glover has studied with dancing greats ranging from Gregory Hines to Sammy Davis Jr., as he developed his own “free form hard-core” tap style. A gifted teacher, he frequently shares his enthusiasm for dance arts education with students in schools across the country. His production company, Savion Glover Productions, oversees his Newark-based HooFeRzCluB School for Tap.