Black History Month at Stony Brook University concluded with an afternoon of uplifting words and performances at its closing program, held February 27 in the Stony Brook Union.
Cheryl Chambers, associate dean for Multicultural Affairs and co-chair of the Black History Month Committee, said that the monthlong slate of events under the theme of “Sankofa! Celebrating the African Diaspora,” included “35 great events over 28 days, continuing one of Stony Brook’s longest-standing traditions.”
“It was a pleasure to bring these events back to campus after three years of celebrating virtually,” said Chambers, who thanked BHM co-chairs Zebulon Miletsky, an associate professor of Africana Studies, and Judy Jaquez, associate director of Multicultural Affairs, along with others from across campus who helped make the month a success.
The event featured guest speakers, awards presentations and a student dance performance by the L’Afrique African Dance Group. The Reverend Brenda Ford, director and chaplain of the Protestant Campus Ministry, delivered the traditional invocation and guests were treated to a meal reflecting Black history and geography. Crafted by Windows Catering, the feast featured South American, Caribbean and African cuisine.
Abena Ampofoa Asare, an associate professor of Modern African Affairs and History in Africana Studies, delivered a powerful keynote address.
Asare began by citing the importance of Sankofa, an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana that translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” From there, she segued into the assault on Black history currently taking place in parts of America today.
“Black history is increasingly a battleground,” said Asare. “More than two million school-aged children in Florida live under a regime that has criminalized teaching or even acknowledging it in the classroom. It is now illegal in some parts of our country to speak of the plunder and the theft of land and labor that is a repeating pattern in the US National fabric. And so it has become a crime to look fully at those communities that have survived this plunder, whose trajectory is forged through a veil of blood. Yes, Black history is on the frontlines of this struggle. But make no mistake, it is our past that is at stake.”
Asare also spoke of the spate of police violence against the Black community, challenging the Stony Brook community to take a stand.
“We live in times when videos of police killings of civilians invade our screens with appalling regularity,” she said. “It’s appropriate to ask questions. When the ‘say his name’ list grows longer every month, it’s appropriate to ask questions. When we march and issue statements about systemic racism, it’s appropriate to ask questions. In fact, it’s entirely necessary. Sankofa is never prohibited. Nothing prohibits us from running our fingers over the complicated patterns, the scars and stitching that binds our country and our community together. We are standing in the flow of our own history here at Stony Brook. Where will we gaze? Do we dare to step forward?”
Asare’s speech earned a standing ovation from attendees.
The winners of the BHM Spoken Word contest, which took place on February 16, were recognized, including contest winner Mari Mourgues ‘25, a sophomore psychology major who performed her winning poem, “Sometimes I Wish I Hadn’t Been Born.” Runners-up were dual political science/journalism majors Oluwatoyin Kupoluyi ’26 and Oluwatunmise Akinfeleye ‘24, a junior who is also vice president of Black World, dedicated to providing a voice for Black and Hispanic students at Stony Brook since 1974.
Keila Ochoa ’24, a junior health sciences major, was awarded the 2023 William McAdoo Memorial Scholarship, which was established in 2004 to honor the former chair of the Africana Studies Department who was an ardent supporter of diversity, equality and social justice.
“It’s an honor to be the recipient of the Dr. William McAdoo Memorial Scholarship,” said Ochoa. “With this scholarship, I hope to inspire students of diverse backgrounds to continue their higher education in order to unite ideas and knowledge for a better future. Our differences are aspects to be celebrated, as they serve as a reminder of our aspirations.”
Temidayo Taiwo ‘24, also a junior health sciences major, received the Ralph Watkins Memorial Scholarship, established in 2006 in honor of the former director of Special Projects at Stony Brook who was a vocal supporter of social justice and served as the Chairman of Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.
“It takes a university — beyond a village — to do something like Black History Month,” said Chambers. “We’re grateful for the community we have here at Stony Brook. It has been a stellar month and all of you here helped make that happen.”
— Robert Emproto
I saw both the opening and closing ceremonies of this. The keynote speaker in the closing that is mentioned in this article, was just remarkable, I had never seen anything so moving. It combined bits and pieces of things I gleaned from the normal news avenues, to a real knowledge and emotion that was just amazing. People trying to rewrite history is a very scary thing, and to hear a state called a regime, I felt transported out of the US. Quite an astonishing woman this Abena Ampofoa Asare.