Black History Month Opening Ceremony Emphasizes the Power of Choice

President Stanley and the Black History Month Committee

President Stanley (center) and the Black History Month Committee

The power of choice was the common theme during the Black History Month opening ceremony — the choice to achieve, to persevere, to love and to rise up — coinciding with Stony Brook’s overarching theme for the month, “Sankofa: Still I Rise.”

The opening ceremony is part of an annual program of Black History Month events throughout the month of February, coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Black History Month Committee and Department of Africana Studies. This year, the Department of Africana Studies is also celebrating their 50th anniversary as a department at Stony Brook.

“At Stony Brook, we’re committed to learning from the past so that we continue to meet the needs of all of our students. Our diversity has always been one of our strongest assets,” President Samuel Stanley remarked at the opening ceremony. “This year’s program aims to further enlighten our campus on groups of people and individuals of African descent who have overcome various obstacles to make significant contributions to society, as well highlight the intersectionality of other groups closely affiliated with African Americans.”

The ceremony was held in the Sidney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center during campus lifetime on Wednesday, January 31, anchored by a keynote speech from Stony Brook Medicine’s own Allison McLarty, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon.

“This very moment we can change our lives,” McLarty said at the start of her talk. “There never was a moment and there never will be a moment where we are without the power to alter our destiny.”

Dr. Allison McLarty, Opening Ceremony keynote speaker

Dr. Allison McLarty, Opening Ceremony keynote speaker

Throughout her professional life, McLarty was faced with choices that would shape the person she’d become. She was continually told by her advisors and other professionals that she would never become a doctor or a surgeon solely because of her identity as a foreign student or as a black woman. Each time she was told ‘no’, she made the decision to keep pushing forward.

What McLarty wants young people, especially black men and women, to get from her story is the ability to find the power to make the choices that will shape their lives no matter what the obstacle.

“Our choices are powerful, they empower us,” she said. “We should never forget that or allow ourselves to be in a passive place where we feel like we cannot change who we are or what’s going on or what our destiny is to be.”

Shari Cummings, student co-chair of the Black History Month Committee, related the power of choice to the month’s theme, Still I Rise, speaking on the choice to bend in the face of hate or to rise with love.

“The will to persevere and strive for excellence has become a struggle,” she said. “We are always fighting hate and we must never stop. But we must also remember to not let hate shape our present, as our present begets our future. Don’t let it stunt your growth, and find the courage to act because of love and not because of hate.”

 As Stony Brook continues through Black History Month, remember the enduring power of choices.

You can continue to celebrate the African American experience and learn more about Black history by checking out

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