On Feb. 17, the Stony Brook University chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released the nominees for their annual image awards. The list includes leading students of color and cultural organizations on campus.
The awards, named after historically black colleges and universities, prominent black figures and black organizations, celebrate the achievements of people and organizations of color on campus. The awards ceremony is on Feb. 29 in the Student Activities Center Ballroom A at 7 p.m.
The Statesman contacted some of the students and organizations nominated for the awards to ask various questions about their nominations, their campus involvement and Black History Month.
Justin Burns, a junior political science major, is a nominee for the Harry Edwards Award. In addition to being a defensive back for the Seawolves football team, he is involved with the Alpha Project, a non-profit human services organization that operates on the West Coast.
After graduation, Burns hopes to work for the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Foreign Affairs, but also has an interest in athletic training and physical therapy.
Burns said his biggest influencers are his parents — who “taught him what’s wrong and what’s right” — and his peers, who “push him to become great.” He said Black History Month is a time to salute his founding fathers, who made sacrifices to give him the opportunities he has today.
Rachel Miller, a sophomore psychology major, is a nominee for the Hillman Award. She said that “real people … want to be around other real people.” Her connection with people comes from her authentic, energetic personality. After graduation, she hopes to open her own pediatric dentistry practice. She participates in the Caribana dance team and the pre-med student organization.
Miller, who immigrated from Jamaica when she was young, grew up with predominantly white classmates. Black History Month for her is a way to learn about the influence of African Americans on the country. As a self proclaimed music lover, one of Miller’s most prominent black influencers is the singer Etta James.
Canayo Amasiani, a senior biology major, is a nominee for the Ms. HBCU award. She is a community service representative for the Caribbean Students Organization, and has held officer positions in the African Students Union, the Student African American Sisterhood and the National Society of Leadership and Success.
She hopes her legacy is “full of laughter and accessibility” and that she’ll be remembered as a reliable and cheerful community member who inspires her friends to be the best they can be. She said that every month is laced with black history, but February is a way to highlight the people who gave black Americans a path to continue to improve and celebrate their accomplishments.
The Stony Brook National Society of Black Engineers is a nominee for the Howard University award. Angelique Bryson, a senior electrical engineering major and president of the organization, said that the goal of the organization is to “increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who seek to professionally, academically and positively impact the community.”
The organization hosts several workshops and attends conferences throughout the year.
Bryson said that Black History Month is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of a population that is historically underrepresented by highlighting scientists such as Garret Morgan ‒‒ who created the three position traffic signal and the gas mask ‒‒ and Gladys West, who helped create satellite geodesy, which is used by global positioning systems.
Gabrielle Valestin, a senior biology major, is a nominee for the Ms. HBCU award. She is the president of the Student African American Sisterhood and has studied abroad in Tanzania in east Africa.
Last semester, she interned in the Undergraduate Clinical Experience Program at the Stony Brook University Hospital. After she graduates, she hopes to get her masters in biomedical sciences and then go on to medical school where she hopes to learn pediatric medicine.
Valestin said that Black History Month is a “time to inspire others with an emphasis on sharing knowledge, because people need people.”
Health science major, Kojo Dansoh, is a nominee for the Mr. HBCU award. He has been on the e-board for the African Students Union, NAACP, Student African American Brotherhood and the vice president of Student Life in the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). He tries to help his peers integrate into the Stony Brook community by promoting involvement.
Justin “TrulyMade Jay” Otunba, a junior psychology major, is nominated for the Marching Band Award. He is a rapper who has music published on Soundcloud, including his most recent song “Racks Up.” He said his music is inspired by artists across different genres, such as John Legend, Playboi Carti and Slick Rick.
Otunba said Black History Month is a time to pay attention to how African Americans and black Americans have shaped the world. He said that “every month should be Black History Month.”
Paola Cardenas, a sophomore psychology and sociology double major, is a nominee for the Hillman Award. She said that the nomination came as a surprise and she “just tries to make everybody happy.”
Cardenas, who comes from a mixed Latin African American household, believes that it is important to honor African Americans for a month. She lists her parents as her biggest influences, since they work hard to put her and her sister through college.
The Cadence Step Team is a nominee for the Majorette award. Genneil Martin, a junior civil engineering major, is the president of Cadence. She feels honored that her team was recognized with a nomination.
Cadence performs at campus events such as China Night, Afro-Caribbean events and fashion shows. Martin said that Cadence allows a blend of different communities to come together.
“When [Cadence] comes together to perform, it’s dynamic and different,” she said. It’s a home away from home for her and many other members.
Grisell Ovalles, a senior history major, is a nominee for the Picture Perfect award. She’s the vice president of the NAACP Stony Brook chapter and a senator for the USG. She believes that clothes are more than just brands, “but a form of expression that everybody participates in.”
She pushes her peers and underclassmen out of their comfort zones and into leadership positions. For Ovalles, Black History Month means “highlighting the history that a foundation of white supremacy worked so hard to erase.”
She aspires to get her masters degree in history or education and pursue a career teaching high school students in New York City. Her mentors on campus are Senior Academic Advisor and counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program — Dorothy Corbett — and history professor April Masten. She is motivated by her family and the sacrifices they have made to invest in her education.
Yamilex Taveras, a senior political science major, is a nominee for the Black Panther Award. She is a senator in the USG; serves on the Budget/Grant Committee for clubs and organizations; and serves as a Doctorate Granting Institutions Representative on the SUNY Student Assembly. She plans to pursue a career in law.
Taveras is also the president of the Latin American Student Organization, of which she has been a member since her freshman year. She said she’s seen the organization’s influence on campus only grow. As president her “main goal was to exemplify fearlessness; to go ahead of the status quo and run the organization not how everyone feels a good org runs, but what feels right.”
She said she sees Black History Month as “the re-energizing month,” or a time when everybody recognizes the fight against racial injustice.
Terrell “TJ” Morrison, a senior business management major, is a nominee for the Harry Edwards award. As well as being a defensive back for the Seawolves football team, he is a student ambassador and member of the Black Student Athlete Huddle. He said being nominated was “humbling but exciting as well, knowing that my involvement on campus is being recognized within both athletics and throughout campus.” He said he’s always looked up to his older brother, who taught him by example how to be optimistic and to stand up to adversity.
He said that Black History Month is an important time for him to honor those who have “paved the way” for African Americans, while also working to “pay it forward and keep the ball rolling.”
Benjamin Owusu, a junior health sciences major, is a nominee for the Josephine Baker Award. His spoken word discusses the Black Lives Matter Movement and police brutality against African Americans; it is meant to “change perspective in a world with a lot of people who are thinking the same.” He said he’s “here to challenge some of the practices that you think are okay … changing the community and changing perspective.”
Maame Esi Otoo, a senior business major, is a nominee for the Josephine Baker award and the Ms. HBCU Award. She is the vice president of clubs and organizations within the USG and helps organizations on campus find spaces to practice.
Otoo believes that helping find creative clubs — such as non-university established dance teams — locations for meetings and practices on campus, can promote creativity in the community. She believes that having the ability to give more culturally diverse organizations a chance to establish.
“I really like to make people feel welcomed and seen,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter who you are.”
Brianne Ledda, Maya Brown and Samantha Robinson contributed reporting.