Sunday, April 14, 2024

‘Inclusion benefits everyone’: Black Solidarity Day at SUNY Plattsburgh

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Black Solidarity Day originated as a day of protest, observed annually on the Monday before Election Day. At SUNY Plattsburgh, it was a day of unity, learning and celebration.

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Allison Heard said the positive energy surrounding the day stuck out to her.

“So many times, when you talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, affirming life, affirming Black lives, people get pissed off,” Heard said. “And yesterday, what I felt was the energy: the sun was shining, the weather was uncharacteristically nice, people were happy, they were excited.”

Students, faculty, staff and off-campus guests could choose from 55 lectures, discussions, presentations, workshops and film viewings to attend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7. Students and faculty alike volunteered to organize sessions on intersectional topics, addressing issues not just of race, but disability, caregiving, work, education, faith, reproductive rights, media and others. Besides the breakout sessions, there were the kickoff event at 8 a.m., lunch activities and performances at Amitie Plaza and a keynote featuring Nicky Hylton-Patterson, director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

“It was a day that we all came together, regardless of race,” said Osamuyimen Omorogbe-Akpata, treasurer of the Student Association. “It was a day of unity for me.”

Black Solidarity Day leads back to SUNY Old Westbury. Activist and former professor Carlos Russell created Black Solidarity Day in 1969, but its roots in Plattsburgh start with the 59th legislation of the SA, when its student-led efforts succeeded in adding the day to the academic calendar in March. The current legislation continued its predecessors’ work by making events more accessible to students. For two months, the SA worked with the Black Solidarity Day Steering Committee to plan, organize and bring the event to students in order for the day not to be a “half-celebration,” SA President Taiba Azeem said. 

As part of its work, the SA met with the President’s Cabinet and the Faculty Senate to arrange online versions of the sessions and encouraged professors to allow their students to attend sessions instead of class. Many professors did just that. Clubs and boards canceled their meetings to give way to the celebration of Black Solidarity Day.

“What happened yesterday was the validation of that hard work,” Azeem said. “We felt that the students would care about this, and yesterday they showed us they care.”

Feedback for the event was mostly positive. Heard said the only criticism she received was that it was difficult for some to choose which session to attend, as multiple were held at the same time. At the most recent SA Senate meeting, Adviser Stephen Matthews reported that the Black Solidarity Day events were not as well-attended at some other SUNY schools as they were at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“What I saw yesterday was the beginning,” Heard said. “It’s not the end. There’s so much potential, and that really helps me to stay energized and passionate.”

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