4th annual Black Student Convocation begins 44 Days: Honoring Black History to celebrate, reflect, and honor the Black community.
By Victoria Vidales, Editor-in-Chief
And Melanie Moyer, Associate Editor
On Saturday, February 13th, Saint Mary’s 44 Days: Honoring Black History officially began with the Black Student Convocation. Named “Joy, Fun, Community” the 4th annual Black Student Convocation celebrated the beauty of Black culture, and the diverse experiences of members within the Black community. Open to Black members of the Saint Mary’s community and allies, this event consisted of keynote speakers, panel discussions, self-care sessions, and other community-building events. A day to learn, reflect, pray, share, and hope the Black Student Convocation was an incredible celebration of the Black community within Saint Mary’s College and abroad.
The Black Student Convocation is “designed to give Black undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to gather, reinforce their academic and professional pursuits, enhance transformative bonds, and discuss their shared experiences, goals and needs as students at SMC with the guidance and support of Black Faculty, Staff, and Alumni.” These intentions remained at the core of the convocation, with all the activities designed to educate, support, and inform Black students.
The event began with an opening by Dr. Zahra Ahmed, Co-Chair of the BLM subcommittee, and professor of Politics, welcoming all to the event. Collin Fisher, a Black and Native American student and member of the BSU, spoke next with a “Land Acknowledgement” to recognize the origins of the land that Saint Mary’s was built upon. Reverend Dr. D. Mark Wilson spoke next with the invocation, inviting all to participate in praying together before the event began.
The Black National Anthem was played in a beautiful virtual video of 105 student singers from HBCUs. Dr. Ahmed returned with the “Pouring of Libations” to acknowledge and remember those who have passed away. Dr. Ahmed poured water continuously over a plant, encouraging attendees to call out the names of their ancestors who have died. A particularly moving moment, this event united all participants as they mourned for their loved ones.
The opening of the event concluded with remarks from Dr. Margaret Kasimatis, Interim Executive Vice President; President Donahue; and Kathy Littles, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Senior Diversity Officer at Saint Mary’s College. Each speaker discussed the importance of listening to and supporting Black students on the Saint Mary’s campus, and the importance of allyship.
The next event began the Plenary Sessions, where speakers would present on topics of personal experiences. The first was the “Student Speakers Keynote Address” moderated by student Kulia Osborne ‘22, Vice President of the BSU and Co-Chair of the Black Lives Matter Subcommittee, with fellow students Juliana Davis ‘22 and Roxelle Thomas ‘22 as panelists. Each speaker shared their personal experiences identifying as Black female students on the Saint Mary’s campus, specifically those which demonstrated difficulties with microaggressions and tokenism, and what they want allies to know about those experiences. The panel ended with Davis and Thomas urging the Saint Mary’s to continue to improve the experience of Black students, for “compared to other schools [Thomas] thinks we’re doing great, but there’s always room to be better. This is just a time for us to be better and grow every day.” Davis elaborated with her father’s advice “don’t be sorry, just be better.”
Following a game of SMC Black Trivia, the next event was “Black Male Student Perspectives: Telling Their Stories Across Generations” moderated by Dr. James Johnson. The panelists consisted of Saint Mary’s male alumni Maurice Harper ‘75, Dr. John Mosby ‘94, Derrick Crayton ‘08, and current student Collin Fisher ‘23. Each of these speakers shared their experiences as Black male students at Saint Mary’s, highlighting how the college has evolved in addressing racism over the decades. Each experienced over-policing in the Moraga and surrounding communities and shared some of their encounters with law enforcement. They all shared personal stories of facing racism within the college, their personal reactions, and their hopes for improvement in the Saint Mary’s community.
After “Lunch with the DJ,” Concurrent Sessions began with “Alumni Career Panel” and “Life Hacks and DIY.” Divided into two groups, attendees attended either event, learning about the experiences of guest speakers. The “Alumni Career Panel” was moderated by Saint Mary’s alumnus Lloyd Schine ‘98, with panelists S. Jamila Buckner ‘88, Eric George ‘99, Rushell Gordon ‘96, Frank Knight ‘99, and Brian Stanley ‘98. Each panelist gave advice to students about life following college, encouraging all to pursue their dreams, regardless of the opinions of others. “Life Hacks and DIY” was presented by Dr. Ahmed where she talked to the group about different ways to “hack” life. She showed attendees how she mixes special oils for a variety of uses and talked about how she acquired the oils by growing them herself or finding them in grocery isles. She went on to talk about the plants she has grown and how she cares for them.
The second concurrent sessions “Higher Education Professionals Tell Their Story” and “Overcoming History: The Role of Entrepreneurship in Economic and Social Development” were run in the same fashion as the previous pairing, with attendees divided in two groups. “Higher Education Professionals Tell Their Stories” was moderated by Dr. Evette Castillo Clark with panelists Dr. Desiree Anderson, Dr. Sonja Daniels, Sherie Gilmore-Cleveland, John Rawlins III, and Marcus Weemes. In this session panelists shared their stories of embracing careers in higher education, and how students can enter into these fields themselves.
“Overcoming History: The Role of Entrepreneurship in Economic and Social Development” was presented by Troy Clark, where he focused on giving advice and personal knowledge to Black students to “rehabilitate, redirect and redefine Black life” through pathways of entrepreneurship and activist economics. His presentation focused on the history of Black people in economics and what new entrepreneurs can learn from those who created substantial change through social entrepreneurship.
Following these events, all participants were brought back together for closing remarks, and a meditation. The closing was led by Arisika Razak, MPH, who is a Professor Emerita and former chair of the Women's Spirituality Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies as well as a core teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center. Her closing remarks reminded all participants that all are united together in advocating for messages of joy, fun and community is every aspect of their lives. The Black Student Convocation was an incredibly informative and celebratory event that opened the 4th 44 Days Celebration.
The Black Student Convocation was presented and sponsored by several Saint Mary’s organizations, including the Black Lives Matter Committee, College Committee on Inclusive Excellence, Office of the Dean of Students, High Potential Program, The Intercultural Center, Office of the President, and the Office of Student Engagement and Academic Success.
Victoria Vidales '21,