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Symposium First in Black History Month Series

March 6, 2019

In February, The College of New Rochelle celebrated Black History Month with a series of events showcasing African-American culture. The first event,  an educational symposium focused on the problems black America is facing today, with a panel of prominent members of the community, including the Honorable Pearl Quarles, Westchester County legislator and former president of the board of education, Charles Morgan, director of the New Rochelle Community Action Program, and Shane Osinloye, marketing strategist and project manager.

Gathered in CNR’s Sweeny Student Center was a diverse audience that included former educators, high school students, and CNR students, as well as mothers and their children. The conversation opened with Black in America, a CNN video highlighting issues African-Americans face every day in America, such as racial profiling, drug addiction, childhoods spent on the streets, and a need for proper guidance and education for young children.

One of the primary concerns expressed by symposium participants—both on the panel and in the audience—was the lack of opportunity that often eludes poor African-American youth. Rather than being told to go to college and pursue a degree, some are advised to pursue more menial jobs as groundskeepers or sanitation workers, for example.

The video also states that African-American men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, mainly on petty drug offenses, which Osinloye, a New Rochelle project manager who works with research-driven statistics, links back to the “illegality of being black in America” in the first place. “When you're born a crime, then anything you do is criminalized. And everything you do after that is decriminalized,” he said.

Osinloye is working hard to promote black and female economic empowerment and put an end to racial discrimination. “The gross domestic product (GDP) of the black nation is $1.2 trillion. That means black America spends that much money each year,” he said. “So how can we harness that type of power into helping each other?”

Strained relations between African-Americans and law enforcement was one of the many topics explored. 

Mercy Tullis-Bukari, a high school English teacher from the Bronx who believes in integrating important life skills into her curriculum, alongside Shakespeare and poetic prose, addressed the topic, offering, “As a black woman and a teacher, this is something I constantly worry about: Are our children going to come home tonight?” So once a week, Tullis-Bukari welcomes a police officer into her classroom to go over the best practices for people who are stopped by law enforcement, including keeping calm, complying fully with the officers, and keeping their hands in view.

Quincy Campbell, a high school student from Thornton Donovan School in New Rochelle said that while being a young black teenager comes with its challenges, “every generation is responsible for how black people are perceived in America, and it's on us to change the public's perception.”

Participants shared the hope that by holding frank and open discussions like these, communities will begin to enact real change and help set a new foundation on which children can build their futures, instilling in them the belief that their minds and lives are valuable.