Black History Month officially began at Stony Brook University on February 2 with a virtual Opening Ceremony that included music, poetry, guest speakers from across campus and a keynote delivered by alumnus Franck D. Joseph II ’12.
The webinar, which was live-streamed and recorded, was hosted by the co-chairs of Stony Brook’s Black History Month Committee: Associate Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Affairs Cheryl Chambers, and Associate Professor Zebulon Miletsky of the Department of Africana Studies.
This year’s theme, “Sankofa! Social Activism,” seeks to increase awareness about the historical legacy of the African American experience in the struggle for equality, inclusion and social change.
President Maurie McInnis delivered the event’s opening remarks, pointing out how Stony Brook University and society at large owe much to the African American and Black activists who have fought for social reform, and “who have been brave enough to speak out against injustice.”
“We also know that there is still much work to be done, and it is every individual’s responsibility to meet their historical moment — to think critically, speak honestly, and act in the service of justice,” McInnis said. “I am honored to be here commemorating Black History Month at Stony Brook, where we are defining ourselves by our actions and our caring. I could not think of a better theme for 2022, as we strengthen our collective responsibility to build a better society through civil discourse, civic engagement, and critical action.”
Rihanna Bertram of the Stony Brook Gospel Choir continued the ceremony by singing a stirring a cappella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Rev. Brenda Ford, director and chaplain for the Protestant Campus Ministry, delivered the invocation.
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Judi Brown Clarke said that Black History Month is “our collective reminder to acknowledge and recognize the contributions of Black people to American history and culture,” and spoke about recognizing black history as American history. “The accomplishments, advancements, sacrifices, and struggles of Black Americans should not be ignored, misrepresented, or banned, and should be taught fully and truthfully in both secondary and postsecondary institutions,” she said.
Junior biology major Perpetua Uduba, winner of last year’s Black History Month spoken word contest, recited her own poem, “To Whom it May Concern.” Uduba said the poem was inspired by “encouraging the idea of patience, and reflecting on what has happened before acting.”
Other speakers included Professor and Chair of the Department of Africana Studies Patrice Nganang, who thanked the assembled for celebrating Black culture, and Victoria Sarita, Vice President of Undergraduate Student Government, who introduced Joseph, the keynote speaker.
Joseph is a former chief of staff and senior advisor for the Queens borough president, at one time the youngest chief of staff in New York State. He graduated from Stony Brook with a BA in political science and was a 40 Under Forty alumni honoree in 2019. He has served as deputy commissioner for community relations at the NYC Commission on Human Rights and has collaborated with elected officials, business organizations, faith leaders, civic leaders, and other stakeholders in his career.
Joseph delivered an uplifting speech that described a tough upbringing in Brooklyn, how his father was shot and killed on his way home from school, how his mother was disabled and how he helped care for her when he was young, and how his family was often housing insecure. Speaking to the Stony Brook students, Joseph noted how he has walked the same walk and sat in the same classrooms, telling them that they will someday have the opportunity to share their experience, and “how ordinary it is to make a change.”
“That’s really the beauty of social activism — you don’t need to be an icon, you just need to be you,” Joseph said. “Remember that all those great icons are regular people. How can your experiences shape you, determine what you do, and how you give back.”
“You can be that social activist, that Black activist. You can be that great ally.”
Black History Month is coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Department of Africana Studies, and the Black History Month Committee. Visit the Black History Month website for more information and for a complete list of events and activities.