Students and faculty piled into the Old Union Hall on Monday night to partake in and celebrate the commencement of this year’s Black History Month. The event was the first of many planned Black History Month events — which include a keynote speech by ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith — and featured performances and speeches from students and faculty members alike.
Ese Olumhense, president of the Black Student Union, which hosted the event, took the stage with Madjeen Garcon, vice president of BSU, and announced the theme for this year’s Black History Month: “illuminating black experience.”
“We want to provide a new insight this Black History Month and scratch beneath the surface,” said Olumhense, a senior majoring in English.
The two BSU E-Board members introduced the first keynote speaker of the night, English professor Aja Y. Martinez.
She spoke of her experiences dealing with racism and the apathy shown by students and faculty who didn’t attend a presidential forum about a racist incident at the University of Arizona, after a fraternity hosted a Martin Luther King, Jr. party that featured many racist stereotypes.
“Issues of justice and equity are concerns for us all,” she said. “How different are we when it comes to our struggles?”
Martinez’s speech was followed by performances by KASA MODA and the Crosbys, as well as original poem readings by Binghamton University students. Awards were distributed for excellence and diligence in the U-Turn program and other youth outreach programs.
Garcon, a senior double-majoring in political science and sociology, spoke about the obstacles to achieving what one speaker referred to as the “end goal of liberation.”
“On this campus there is too much ‘me, me, me.’ Everyone is too focused on empowering themselves, but we need to be looking at other people as well: how to lift as we climb,” Garcon said.
Members of the audience responded similarly when asked about their opinions on obstacles in the way of unity and acceptance.
“The biggest problem is that people only perceive their own, personal experiences then they generalize about an entire group of people,” said Ashley Paynter, a sophomore majoring in biology. “It’s hard to create unity if there are so many units that are explicitly different.”
After a brief game of trivia, a video was shown in order to introduce the keynote speaker of the month: Stephen A. Smith.
Smith is a sports journalist who currently hosts “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show” on ESPN Radio. He attended Winston-Salem State University on a basketball scholarship and is a prominent African-American figure in the field of sports media.
“He worked from being a basketball player to being a journalist and took his life further. His story is just very inspirational,” Garcon said.
Smith will be speaking at BU on Feb. 22.