Several student groups came together this Monday to celebrate Black Solidarity Day. The groups included the African American Student Alliance (AASA), Sisters of the Round Table (SORT), Brothers, Sister-to-Sister, the Caribbean Student Association (CSA) and the African Student Alliance (ASA). Conceived to bring black people and their respective ideologies together, Black Solidarity Day was designed to promote reflection.
The day started with a “shout-out” event on the academic quad. From a podium nestled between the pillars of the chapel, speakers voiced their thoughts to the assembled crowd and to others walking past. Some read quotes from famous African-American heroes like Langston Hughes. Others used the opportunity to voice their opinion on the African-American experience at Colgate.
Junior Lorene Rayton spoke about the importance of keeping one’s identity on campus.
“Not too long ago Colgate was a place where not a black face could be found,” she said. “[Today] we hope that Colgate’s name will help us infiltrate the white upper class of America.”
Assistant Professor of Psychology Landon Reid posed a question to the assembled students:
“What does it mean to be united? From where I stand, I often see more grounds for disunity than unity. I would simply like you to think about how you can use your Colgate experience to learn how to build bridges.”
The “shout-out” was followed by a march from the Harlem Renaissance Center to the ALANA Cultural Center.
The marchers held symbolically colored candles and sang African-American folk songs, including “This Little Light of Mine,” “Wade in the Water” and “We Shall Overcome.”
At the ALANA Cultural Center, the participants enjoyed refreshments and a presentation by Assistant Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) Damon Todd Hewitt.
Hewitt explained the role of the LDF, an entity separate from the NAACP that prosecutes cases involving economic justice, criminal justice, voting rights and education. He also shared his experiences as one of the few black students at Louisiana State University.
Hewitt also discussed the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the black population of New Orleans. The topic held special significance for Hewitt, a native of the city whose childhood home flooded when the levees broke down.
“There was another kind of breech after Hurricane Katrina,” he said. ” [that] of that social contract that…makes a community. We were left behind a long time before Hurricane Katrina. People were dying a much slower death even before that.”
Hewitt pointed out that New Orleans public schools had a 91.7 percent African-American population two years ago, though the city is only 68-69 percent African-American.
He said that white students were fleeing to private schools and that the city’s public schools were “left to rot.”
Hewitt said he was worried about the future of minorities in New Orleans.
“The path has been cleared…for the conservative counter-revolution,” he said. “People are not being allowed to return to public housing; people are not being allowed to return to school; people are not being allowed to get medical treatment.”
After his talk, Hewitt opened the floor for discussion.
Some students called into question the role of the black cultural groups on campus and argued that the groups lacked positive levels of interaction. Others challenged the predominantly white composition of the Budget Allocation Committee.
Program Assistant for the ALANA Cultural Center Dominique Hill voiced her experience as a recent Colgate graduate.
“People that are in leadership positions need to be careful and make sure that they are not taking advantage of the positions that they have,” she said. “I feel it is very difficult to infiltrate the larger system when you have cultural leaders taking advantage of the positions they have. “
Hewitt reacted to the discussion by giving some advice on how to mend group relations.
“What do your organizations do?” he asked. “You fill a void that the university can’t quite fill on its own. You have to make it your business to make this work.”
Interim ALANA Cultural Center Director Monica Nixon felt that the discussion was good for the groups, and noted that when there was disagreement between the cultural groups, it tended to be more acute.
“I think that what makes it stand out more is that with the majority culture there a tendency to see a lot of the cultural organizations as pretty homogenous,” she said. “In actuality they are as different from each other as any two organizations might be. I think that this
probably surprises people.”
Senior ASAA President Rodney Mason had similar thoughts.
“There were issues,” he said. “Some of the things that were discussed were issues that are pertinent to our community that needed to be discussed.”
Nixon also discussed the significance of Black Solidarity Day in relation to other Colgate organizations.
“I think lot of our organizations on campus do events that are somewhat superficial,” she said. “So I think that this event was trying to do something that was deeper than that.”