Black History Month: “Growing up, not old”

Originally published Feb. 5, 2011

Black History Month celebrations at Stony Brook University kicked off last week with guest speaker Marc Lamont Hill, Ph.D., associate professor of education at Teachers College and an affiliated faculty member at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University addressing this “peculiar” period of history in which we live.

“We live in a nation that isn’t just growing old, but it is also growing up,” Hill said on Feb. 2. “We live in a moment of social distress. But don’t lose sight of the fact that we still have work to do.”

About 100 students, staff and faculty members gathered in the Student Activities Center auditorium to celebrate the Black History Month Opening Ceremonies. The themes of this year are “Sankofa” and “Writing a New Chapter for the History Books.”

Sankofa can be interpreted as, “Go back and take,” or “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”

“Sankofa is always the main theme of Black History Month,” said Cheryl Chambers, associate dean and co-chair of the Black History Month Committee at the Office of Multicultural Affairs. She attributed the selection of “Writing a New Chapter for the History Books” to the students who serve on the committee.

Chambers thought Hill’s presentation shed ample light on both points of this year’s theme.

“He was able to really translate and extrapolate what that means not only for African-American students but for society in general,” she said.

In order to tackle some of the challenges faced by the African-American people, Hill offered a solution- learning not only from the successes but from also the failures.

“We live in a world that is committed to remembering everything,” he said. “Yet at the very same moment the West is also committed to remembering the most painful memories.”

Hill referenced the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, noting that they were “only cosigned in ink; they were written in blood.”

He continued to say that even today, injustices still occur. According to Hill, just because Barack Obama is president and Oprah Winfrey has her own television network does not mean our society is perfect.  He pointed out the fact that when tragedy strikes, people are willing to run to the streets and protest, but protesting is not effective enough on its own.

“The fundamental problem with the world is this: there are too many people that don’t do anything,” he said. “Everyone wants to leave [and protest], but nobody wants to do the work.

“To engage in activism is to be rendered marginal in your time,” he said. The marginality of the present, however, plays into the infamy of a movement in the future. Hill argues that one must “challenge what counts as common sense.”

Black History Month activities will continue through Feb. 24. One addition to this year’s program is the Black History Month Unity Forum, which will be held as an open discussion on African issues and stereotypes both globally, and locally on Feb. 22.

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