The room was filled with round tables draped with black table cloths and decorated with purple and gold plates. Students filled the seats during the Black History Month closing ceremony last Wednesday, Feb. 25 in SAC Ballroom A.
Among the students was Zoe Sumner, a sophomore English major.
By the end of the night, Sumner was named the first- place winner of the Spoken Word contest.
This contest, which was held on Wednesday, Feb. 11, gave Stony Brook students the chance to recite an original poem in front of their peers.
This contest happens annually during Black History Month. The theme, like previous years, was “Sankofa!” The Evolution of the Black Experience.
For Sumner’s winning performance, she focused on the theme of black femininity. She wrote about black women in today’s society.
“The idea of a black woman has been commoditized,” Sumner said.
In her poem she talked about features typical of a black woman—for example, a big butt—and how those features are only appreciated on people like Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé.
Sumner, who is also the step coordinator of the Cadence step team, said that this was her first year being really involved with Black History Month at Stony Brook.
“I definitely think that people from all races should come out to these events because it’s not just about black people,” Sumner said.
She added that black history is not taught as much in high school, so it would be good to see more students of different races come to the events on campus during the month.
Another popular event was the Black History Month forum on Feb. 19. Kevin Powell, a black political activist, led a discussion with student leaders.
Soledad O’Brien’s talk at the Staller Center on Feb. 16 was another highly-attended event during the month of February.
The key note speaker at the closing ceremony was Dr. Allison J. McLarty, a cardiothoracic surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Stony Brook Medicine.
McLarty spoke about her struggles pertaining to her race and gender that she faced to get where she is now.
She talked about the power of education for students and about how her mother, a Jamaican native, always pushed her to achieve her dreams.
She opened her speech by talking about “Sankofa!”
“Loosely translated, it means that it is not wrong to go back to that which you have forgotten, or another way to look at it is that there is sometimes a need to reflect on the past, so that one can build a successful future,” McLarty said.
She talked about how her grandmother told her mother that since McLarty’s mother was the darkest of all of her children, she needed to study the hardest so that she could make her way in the world.
She then talked about how her mothers work habits rubbed off on her and helped her to become the person she is today.
When she was told that she could not be a doctor because she was a woman and because of her race, she listened to her mother who told her that she could.
“There is a lot of power in our choices and I think a lot more than we realize,” McLarty said. “Each of us has the power to choose the path that makes our dreams come true.”
She also talked about how inspiring it is to think of people like Oprah and Obama as icons of the black community.
She said that just their presence is liberating.
“I also think of what it took them to get to where they are now,” she added.
She talked about how diligent people like Oprah and Obama worked hard to get to where they are today.
She said that it is this generation’s job to make it easier for the following generation by minimizing racism.
“It is up to us to change things so that our children see a world where it is normal to be where you are, it is normal to be black wherever you are,” McLarty said. “So that we are not a color, we are just a people collectively trying to become everything that we have been created to be.”
The night was also filled with student awards for participation and achievements during Black History Month as well as vocal performances. The night ended off with a buffet-style dinner.
Dr. Zebulon Miletsky, an assistant professor of Africana Studies was one of the organizers of Black History Month at SBU this year. Miletsky said he received a lot of positive feedback on the speakers they have had at the events during the month.
He said that every event has been like an “ongoing dialogue.”
Miletsky said this year, with the killings of unarmed black men like Mike Brown and Eric Garner, they wanted to make Black History Month resonate more with students and their own experiences.
“I think people are looking for answers. Everyone is looking for ways to weigh in on this national conversation,” Miletsky said. “I look at Black History Month this year as a needed conversation and a needed healing too.”