Jerrion Benjamin (now Forrester), a 1996 graduate of Brandeis University, is an attorney in the Office of the Public Defender in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was elected to the Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 5, 2019 after earning four All-America honors, including a runner-up finish at the 1994 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships. Benjamin captured 12 UAA titles and still holds program records in the 55-, 100-, and 200-meter dashes.
The UAA “Conversations About Race and Racism” series seeks to lift the voices of people of color and recognize the challenges faced in both athletics and academics at the collegiate level. By sharing personal stories, we hope to elevate the conversation about race to raise awareness and bring about change.
Coming to the U.S. from Jamaica
“Race really didn’t play a significant role in my life until I came to the U.S. I was born in Jamaica and migrated in 1987 when I was 13 years old. I hadn’t even learned a lot about Caribbean history by the time I left Jamaica and knew almost nothing about Black history related to slavery,” she expressed. “I knew about the liberators of Jamaican slavery, but I was young at the time and it didn’t impact me the way it would now.”
She went to high school at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Cambridge, Mass. “I was oblivious to race as a social construct. The high school had everything and was kind of a utopia for me. I didn’t know I was Black. I was a girl from Jamaica,” she reported. “I was tracked differently from a lot of the Black kids I knew. I was college-bound and some of them were not. There were times I was one of the few minorities in AP history and things like that, but it didn’t really mean anything to me at the time. I was always told to go to school, learn, and do the best I could.”
Although she hadn’t experienced that level of overt racism before, she was in the Boston area when Charles Stuart falsely alleged that his pregnant wife Carol was shot and killed by a Black man (Stuart’s brother confirmed to police that Stuart himself was the murderer and Stuart ended up taking his own life). “Family members were talking about that case (which made national headlines) and said that Black people were just scapegoats,” she recollected. “Living in Cambridge, I walked through Harvard Yard to get to school. Whenever my Black friends and I were hanging out in the Square, we were always followed in the stores. I was finally starting to pick up on what race meant here in the U.S.”
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