By Laraib Asim
SUNY Plattsburgh has officially added Black Solidarity Day to the academic calendar to be celebrated annually as a teach-in day on the first Monday of every November. SUNY will mark the first celebration of this event on campus Nov. 7, 2022.
Dr. Carlos Russell, an activist, ambassador and professor at SUNY Old Westbury and at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (BCCUNY), was the reason Black Solidarity Day was founded in 1969. He was inspired by Douglas Turner Ward’s play “Day of Absence,” in which Black citizens of a fictional Southern town vanish, revealing to the town’s white residents their dependence on Black people.
Ahmed Metwaly, the president of the Student Association, said the bill was introduced to the Senate and after it had passed, it went to the President’s office, from there the Student Association set up meetings to discuss further details.
The bill in reference is the 59th Legislation’s 2nd Resolution written by Shiyiheeim Nartey-Tokoli, the former treasurer of the Student Association, and re-submitted by Mac-Olivier Lalanne, a senator of the Student Association.
The bill states, “A Resolution: To request that SUNY Plattsburgh’s Administration recognize Black Solidarity Day as a holiday, and thus a day of Diversity and Inclusion to be celebrated annually on our campus. That SUNY Plattsburgh allow students to observe the day needed to get educated on the meaning of diversity and the history of Black Solidarity Day.”
The Student Association has been trying to add this day into the calendar for a long time.
The first time the resolution was proposed and passed was during the 56th Legislation and then again during the 57th Legislation and has finally been approved by the faculty during the 59th Legislation.
“A big part of what we have been doing specifically for this year is trying to rebuild as the Student Association and as a campus [community] because of COVID,” Metwaly said. “So that [Black Solidarity Day] was one of the things that came into our radar that we wanted to try and do again.”
Ohemaa Owusu-Poku, who is a part of the Student Association Executive Board and the Coordinator of Student Affairs and Diversity, thanked the other members of the Student Association for their dedication and applauded students for their appreciation and willingness to learn about Black culture. This allows the Association to succeed in their efforts of raising awareness of Black and other communities.
“Me, along with Ohemma and Ahmed, really tried to make things work for the Black Solidarity Day because of its impact toward the black community,” LaLanne said. “[Black people] contributed a lot more in society than what other people think.”
According to Metwaly, the main issue that arose was that no one knew what students would do during the day. Dr. Raymond Carmen, an associate professor of political science, talked about how the college came up with a meaningful way to celebrate Black Solidarity Day.
“When the resolution was passed, I met with officers of the Student Association and I met with the provost and we talked and then I brought it to my executive committee of the Faculty Senate, and we had these conversations about what we could do,” Carmen said. “We have a history on this campus of social justice teach-ins. Since I’ve been here in 2014 we have had two [social justice teach-ins], one in 2016 and one in 2019.”
The Faculty Senate decided that students will be encouraged to partake in a social justice teach-in to discuss diversity and inclusion. This is different from the usual purpose of the day, which is to follow a 24-hour moratorium to reiterate the importance of Black people’s lives. The SA had originally requested the day be celebrated according to its original purpose as stated in the 59th Legislation.
The intended purpose would be to “Resolved, that it is required that no tests, quizzes, or graded material of any kind should be issued or due on Black Solidarity Day, and that students who are participating in Black Solidarity Day should notify their professors beforehand, and that these students will not be held accountable for absence on Black Solidarity Day.”
However, according to Carmen, the professors had a right to decide whether students would be given a leave of absence or whether they could give assignments or tests on that day. Therefore, to avoid any confusion among students, which could lead to them being penalized, faculty changed the plan to a teach-in day.
“Everybody was on board with it. I haven’t heard anyone detest it or go against it, and say ‘I don’t want any class or anything,’” Owusu-Poku said about the SA’s response. “So I feel like we are heading in the right direction. I do appreciate Dr. Carmen and the rest of the faculty senate for bringing that [idea] up.”
Details regarding the plans of the event to be hosted during the teach-in are still underway.
“One of the things we want to do is have people talk about activism and ways for students to be active and engaged to agitate for social change,” Carmen said.
The last two social justice teach-ins involved three faculty members in charge of organizing everything. This time things will be planned differently.
“We want the student association to be involved in terms of coming up with workshop and panel ideas and getting the word out,” Carmen said. “The provost office could be involved with the office of Diversity and Inclusion, so we wanted it to be more institutionalized and have a much broader institutional support.”
Owusu-Poku talked about how during the process of fighting for recognition of such an important day, she remembered something that a student had said during a speakout.
“ ‘The people of color and the BIPOC community is used as a statistic. They can write on the website that we are diverse but [the point is] how are we appreciated?’ And so as the process of having Black Solidarity Day was in motion, it became less about Black people and more about the diverse people all around,” Owusu-Poku said.
She encourages students to participate Nov. 7 and “expect to be inspired.”