When it came time to choose a theme for Black History Month, after the turbulent year the world has just experienced, the choice was clear.
“The theme of Sankofa! Black Creativity reflects the innovation, struggles, resilience and beauty of the African American/Black people, in the past, the present, and during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history,” said Zebulon Miletsky, associate professor, Department of Africana Studies and co-chair of the Black History Month (BHM) committee.
“It also speaks to the importance of artistic and creative pursuits, and also the creativity needed to move through a pandemic,” Miletsky continued. “The fact that we are virtual this year illustrates that reality. We’ve been through a pandemic, a series of racial justice movements and protests, and violence in our streets and in our nation’s Capitol. Black Creativity also speaks to the ability to survive in the midst of all of these things, and the creative accomplishments and contributions that have made life richer for all Americans.”
The groundbreaking research being conducted by Stephanie Dinkins, associate professor of art in Stony Brook’s College of Arts and Sciences, regarding artificial intelligence and equality, and the cross-campus interdisciplinary team of physicians, engineers, paramedics and students that developed a new patient particle containment chamber to combat the dangers the COVID-19 pandemic presented to frontline medical personnel are just two recent examples of real-world creativity taking place at Stony Brook.
“When we say creativity, we don’t just mean the arts, but solutions, innovation and invention,” said Cheryl Chambers, associate dean and director of Multicultural Affairs and co-chair of the BHM committee. “In a way, everything we do at Stony Brook is creative in some way.”
“Sankofa teaches us that we should reach back and gather the best lessons of what our past has taught us, so that we can use them as we achieve our full potential moving forward,” added Judith Brown Clarke, vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “Black History Month ‘gifts’ us with meaningful and historical learning opportunities to move forward with rich contributions to a more inclusive and equitable world.”
“Black people from around the world have been at the center of innovation, creativity and technology for millenia,” said Thomas Woodson, assistant professor of Technology & Society in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who called this year’s theme timely and inspiring. “In 2021, the world needs more black scientists, engineers and artists. Without them, it will be impossible to solve global challenges.”
A long-standing campus tradition, Black History Month is coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Black History Month Committee and the Department of Africana Studies.
“Stony Brook’s BHM programs have had a long and impactful history,” said Isobel Breheny-Schafer, assistant director of Student Media and a member of the Black History Month committee. “This year’s theme is a perfect way to highlight the talents of the Stony Brook community.”
The University radio station, WUSB, will host its 30th annual reggae marathon, a three-day celebration that coincides with Black History Month. The tradition was founded by SBU alumni and current disc jockey Lister Hewan Lowe in 1991, and celebrates the legacy of influential Jamaican artist Bob Marley.
Another Black History Month highlight is the annual Spoken Word contest, a competition featuring student poetry, rap, storytelling and creative artistry. The content will take place virtually on February 22. Winners are invited to perform on WUSB and be published by BlackWorld media.
In the fine arts, the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery is presenting “Reckoning,” which features an online exhibition showcasing the work of Stony Brook’s world-renowned faculty artists, as well as an online student digital mural featuring work created in response to the challenges and issues they are experiencing.
“I created a piece called ‘Enough is Enough’ the night before my very first Black Lives Matter protest,” said senior psychology major Priscilla Nash ‘21. “I was in a completely frazzled, upset state with everything that had been going on, and I needed an outlet. I needed to express my disbelief for how long things like this have been happening and how the stories that we hear today mimic stories that have been told over and over for decades.”
“Going into Black History Month amidst the Black Lives Matter movement is an intersection in recent history that needs to be recognized by all,” added Gianna Coscia ‘22, a physician assistant studies student. “It’s a time to reflect thoroughly on the centuries of historical injustice that preceded this Black History Month of 2021, but also a time to recognize that history is still happening now.”
The Black History Month opening ceremony takes place virtually on February 3 at 1 pm, and will feature a keynote speech by Julieanna L. Richardson, founder and executive director of The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection of scholarly materials.
Acquired by the Stony Brook University Libraries and celebrating its 20th anniversary, The HistoryMakers database highlights nearly 2,700 historically significant African Americans in education, science, business, politics, arts, entertainment, sports, the military and other fields.
— Rob Emproto