Mr. Eliot Dawes, Director of CUNY’s Black Male Initiative, mediates a panel discussion of race relations both on and off campus with current CSI students.

The College of Staten Island kicked off its celebration of Black History Month with “Perspectives on Race” in the Center for the Arts Recital Hall last week.

View the Celebrate Black History Month Calendar of Events.

The event is the first in a series that will highlight the spirit of diversity, awareness, and reflection that is cultivated by faculty, staff, and students on the CSI campus. It also served as a celebration to honor the rich African American heritage that fosters learning about the value of diversity as well as our commonality and our shared future.

In his welcome remarks, CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales commented on the future of CSI by discussing the “Many Voices, One Vision” theme of the College’s Strategic Plan. He also cited many statistics that proved that the CSI campus has been growing more diverse during his tenure, although he also stated that “I am not satisfied with those numbers.”

President Morales’s remarks set the tone for the event that celebrated the diversity of not only the CSI campus but the Island and the nation.

The event provided the audience with various perspectives on race relations in the U.S. when Dr. Calvin Holder, Professor of History, discussed the civil rights movement and how all of our lives are changed because of the efforts of those people more than 50 years ago.  “The Civil Rights movement spearheaded a larger movement of reform we still feel in this country,” he said.  “These changed America for the better.”

In that spirit, Mr. Eliot Dawes, Director of CUNY’s Black Male Initiative, mediated a panel discussion of race relations, both on and off campus, with current CSI students. Dawes gave a brief history of Black history Month and then asked the students to discuss several topics including what Black History Month meant to them in 2012 as well as how optimistic they were about the future of race relations. “Black History Month means contribution,” said Jesus Valdez, a recent CSI graduate. Stanton Estwick, a Biochemistry major, felt it was important to make Black History Month relevant again “because it is important to remember and honor the sacrifices people have made in the past.”  He also mentioned that Black History Month should not be meant solely for African Americans but “everyone should take strides to advance as a people.”

Many of the students on the panel were hopeful, but cautioned that we, as a people, need to continue to make these strides. “There is still discrimination,” said Francisco Cerillo, an International Business Marketing major. “I don’t know if we will fully overcome it but we are slowly progressing.”

As the panel, and the event as a whole, progressed, Mr. Dawes commented on the diversity of the audience and the student panel. He said that he felt that Black History Month “should no longer be about celebrating only Black history but about celebrating diversity as a whole.”

The celebration was book-ended by the CSI Gospel Choir, which began the festivities with a rousing rendition of “Ride on, King Jesus, No Man Can Hinder Me.”

The event also included English Professor Patricia Smith’s poetry and the Chairperson of the Department of Performing Arts, George Sanchez’s re-enactment of his one-man show, “Chief Half Breed in the Land of In-Between,” which highlighted the trials and tribulations that Professor Sanchez faced as an actor in New York City.

The diversity of the audience and the featured speakers garnered praise from many of the members of the CSI community who took part in the event.

“The diversity of the audience speaks to the commitment of CSI,” said Dr. Holder.

In all, there was a true sense of celebration in the auditorium as the crowd dispersed with CSI’s Gospel Choir serenading their exit and a feeling of camaraderie flowed through the crowd.

On this day, President Morales’s appeal of “Many Voices, One Vision” was evident more than ever.