Sonia Sanchez, sitting only a few feet away from Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., offered to recite a poem she wrote upon the death of Malcolm X.
“I do battle for the creation of a human world, that is, a world of civil recognition,” Sanchez said. “That’s what our dear brother was doing.”
Sanchez was one of three co-authors of a new book documenting key writings from the Black Arts Movement in the ’60s and ’70s and was invited to Stony Brook University on Jan. 27 to celebrate the beginning of Black History Month on campus.
President Stanley opened the ceremony in the Student Activities Center by thanking the Black History Month Committee for their hard work and dedication. He added that he was proud of the university’s annual tradition in honoring the contributions of those who “helped to rectify inequality in our society.”
The president’s address comes two months after he joined Stony Brook University students in demonstrating solidarity with protesters at the University of Missouri in November.
Sanchez, along with the other guest speakers, was invited as a part of Sankofa, the theme for this year’s Black History Month at Stony Brook University. Sankofa is a concept originating from Ghana that has been adopted by the African community to promote the need to reflect on their history in order to build a successful future.
“It’s the artists and the dramatists and the musicians who came and helped us fill in the content of this new kind of blackness,” John H. Bracey, another co-writer of the book “SOS—Calling All Black People,” said during the ceremony. “And it’s just not the artists, it’s that the art was taken into a larger world.”
Amiri Baraka was the writer most highlighted by the guest speakers during the ceremony, having formerly been professor emeritus of Africana Studies of Stony Brook University.
Baraka’s writings had appeal outside of just race and radicalism, which helped make him an international figure, said James E. Smethurst, a professor of Afro-American studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“As you may have noticed, I’m not African American,” Smethurst said as the crowd laughed. “Neither is my family. But my father, who’s also a Jersey guy, loved Amiri Baraka.”
Baraka had served as the second poet laureate of New Jersey for a year from July 2002. The position was abolished by the state senate after Baraka wrote a poem claiming that Israel was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I have to say, as a son of New Jersey, [Baraka] is still my poet laureate,” Smethurst said. “No matter what governors or legislators did subsequently.”
Sanchez concluded the ceremony by recalling a performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco with Baraka, Ed Bullins and Marvin X, where over a thousand people had attended to listen to them read poetry.
“We tore the place down,” Sanchez said. “That’s what hard work does. I’m talking about thousands of people. They were hanging from the rafters, literally.”
The next Black History Month event at Stony Brook University will be a showing of the feature documentary “Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson,” which will take place on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. in SAC 223.