Conversations With Our Past
Amanda A. Ebokosia writes a letter to Lionel Cuffie

Being the vessel for the LGBTQA community’s movement and putting yourself in that vulnerable position took a tremendous amount of courage, Lionel. More so than now. For you to be able to carry that weight—being an openly gay man and a person of color—is awe-inspiring. The fact that your legacy continues to thrive is really telling about the kind of person you were.

You led through moments of adversity, great moments of adversity. I have more of an advantage than I would have had in your era, even though we still have a long way to go.

I wanted to be a part of the movement of the 1960s and ’70s that I heard about. There was this unrest, of wanting to do something because you were not satisfied with your situation. I wanted to see that in my community.

I found my voice, really, through the Gem Project and through faculty members who encouraged me while I was a student at Rutgers. For another person to see value in characteristics you didn’t know you had, that was like, wow, are you serious?

Doing something exceeds whether you know justice is going to be at the other end. Even if justice is not served, the act of doing something promotes awareness. And awareness can fuel inspiration. And inspiration can give other people courage.

There’s nothing to fear as a person because we all serve in this world with a timeline attached. What makes us equal is that each of us has this finality: no one’s life is greater than another person’s. We all die. And so you don’t want to waste time. What we do could help serve the next person in line.

You’re most alive when you are able to provide a better future for someone else.

Amanda A. Ebokosia

Young and On Fire
As a student and community activist, she founded the Gem Project, an advocacy group for young people based in Newark, New Jersey. She earned a degree in biology.

What a Gem
The nonprofit Gem Project has taught leadership and entrepreneurial skills to more than 2,000 youth through its community-based awareness programs on autism, literacy, “real beauty,” activism, breast cancer, and other locally driven issues.

30 Under 30
On the strength of the Gem Project’s success, Ebokosia was honored in 2012 by Forbes magazine, which featured her in “30 Under 30: Education.” She also was the subject of a White House blog “Women Working to Do Good,” which appeared in 2012.

Charging Ahead
Ebokosia, who is a new board member of Rutgers University Alumni Association, serves as CEO of the Gem Project, overseeing its expansion into a fellowship program.

Lionel Cuffie

After the Storm
Motivated in part by the Stonewall Inn riots that took place in New York City in June 1969, Cuffie founded the campus Student Homophile League (SHL) at Rutgers–New Brunswick, the second-oldest LGBTQA college organization in the United States.

In his first SHL newsletter, Cuffie said he wanted to counter “social and political persecution and discrimination directed against minority groups.” 

Good Start
The year after Cuffie graduated, SHL had 80 men and women members. A speakers bureau fulfilled the educational goals of SHL.

Early Loss
Cuffie was among the first generation of Americans to lose their lives to AIDS. He died in 1985.

A Rare Legacy
Today, the Lionel Cuffie Award for Activism and Excellence is given each year to a student for his or her service to LGBTQA communities.