The Student African American Sisterhood (SAAS) completed their most recent charitable endeavor on Saturday, April 28, as the young women headed to Operation PROM in Brooklyn, NY, with bins full of prom garments donated by the Stony Brook community. The gowns, tuxedos, shoes and accessories were swiftly set up on racks and distributed free of charge to needy high school students at the Prom Wear Giveaway Event.
“The day was filled with music and encouragement. I was in the fitting room area helping high school girls try on clothes, and it was great to make them feel confident and ultimately help them pick out prom attire,” said Melissa Owusu ’18, president of SAAS and a health science major with a concentration in public health. “This semester, the SAAS chapter took the initiative to collect prom attire from faculty, students, and anyone else in and around the Stony Brook community. It was a great charitable experience that I won’t forget.”
In the two months leading up to the Brooklyn event SAAS held a series of clothing drives on campus to collect various prom garments for donation. The haul was then taken to Brooklyn and set up on an racks the night before the day-long event. Those in need were given the opportunity to pick out, try on and take home their own attire in preparation for the big dance.
SAAS members knew they wanted to aid high school students in some way with their prom objectives, but weren’t sure where to start. That was when Rayna Simon, Administrative Director for the Student Government and SAAS advisor, stepped in and mentioned that her aunt, Dawn Simon, was the co-director of the Brooklyn chapter of Operation PROM — a nonprofit organization that helps low-income students attend their proms by providing free dresses and tuxedos.
Since its establishment in 2005, Operation PROM, through its various chapters, has helped thousands of students across the country attend prom for little or no cost. To request a prom dress or tuxedo, students must be recommended by their guidance counselor and meet the requirements such as financial need and academic success.
“SAAS likes to participate in various forms of community service endeavors, so when Rayna pitched Operation Prom to us, we were all really excited,” said Antonique Martin ‘18, health science major and vice president of SAAS. “We received a tremendous amount of support and donations for the drive. We know prom is a very special event in most teenagers’ lives. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford this luxury. So this was definitely a worthwhile initiative.”
“We are sisters on the same journey”
When the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) launched its first SUNY chapter at Stony Brook in 2007, it was predominantly a male organization, which presented a void for women of color on campus. Given a large interest with the female population, women were eventually provided the opportunity to join SAAB if they so wished.
“Since the female students started joining the Brotherhood, they also added female advisors. While it was great for the two years that I served as a SAAB advisor, we realized female students had different needs that weren’t getting fulfilled in their entirety,” said Rayna Simon.
Cheryl Chambers, Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs; Michelle Curtis-Bailey, Senior Admissions Advisor; and Rayna Simon are the three founding advisors of the Stony Brook chapter of SAAS, officially founded on November 4, 2016, as the first chapter in the US Northeast, the State of New York, and the State University of New York System.
SAAS was created by Dr. Khalilah Shabazz on the campus of Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, beginning as a grassroots effort to respond to the desires of underrepresented female students to develop a network of academic and personal support. With 13 chapters at colleges and high schools throughout the US, SAAS members are committed to embracing their peers and being positive examples for each other. Shabazz came to Stony Brook to hold the initial SAAS orientation in March 2017.
Throughout the spring semester SAAS held a variety of events from salary-negotiation and professional development workshops, to a double-dutch competition to bake sales and Krispy Kreme fundraisers. They also talked about what it means to be a woman of color on this campus with their Melanin Magic event. The organization is by no means exclusive, and anyone who wants to join can do so, but as their motto states, it focuses on promoting and advancing the academic and personal growth and success of women of color: “We are sisters on the same journey, empowering one another through social unity, academic excellence, leadership and support… together we are a sisterhood of distinction and we will rise.”
The Stony Brook Chapter of SAAS currently consists of 27 members, including a leadership team of six students, who are supported by an Executive Council and 23 Stony Brook faculty and staff members serving as mentors.
— Anthony Vertucci