This February is Black History Month and with events scheduled throughout the month, the College proudly celebrates Black identity and African American history.
On February 2nd, the SEEK Department hosted a lecture with guest speaker Kenneth B. Morris Jr., who is a descendant of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass and is the president of the nonprofit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. Morris spoke to a group of 40 about the importance of looking to the past to understand the present.
“It was a great way to start Black history month,” said Academic Counselor and Adjunct Professor Delmar Dualeh, who organized the event. “Frederick Douglass learned to read and write when it was illegal for him to do so, and we can see how people still don’t have adequate literacy programs today. Students saw how the experiences of people in slavery can relate to our experiences now.”
Professors Ned Benton and Judy-Lynne Peters and a team of graduate students made a significant contribution to understanding that legacy of slavery with the recent announcement of the Slavery Index. This new public database, which includes thousands of records on slaveholding in New York and throughout the Northeast, has been making both local and national news for its groundbreaking contribution to the historical record of American slavery. The Index is the first archive to compile slavery records across New York State.
This spring, Professor Andrea Balis plans to have students enrolled in her classes contribute to the Slavery Index. By creating sources for the Index, students will learn not only how to search historical archives, but will gain experience in adding to one. “Archives are ways to find the voices of the silenced,” Balis said. “Instead of focusing on correctly citing sources, these students themselves will create sources that other researchers will cite.”
Another notable event this month is the annual Malcolm/King Breakfast, which will take place on February 23 for its 28th year. The breakfast celebrates the Malcolm/King Leadership Award, which is given to exemplary John Jay students who are committed to public service and utilize social activism to embody the legacies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Phillip Atiba Goff, the inaugural Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity, is this year’s keynote speaker.
Other events include a screening of the film Moonlight organized by the Urban Male Initiative, a talk on mental health in the Black community, and a discussion moderated by Dr. Carlton Jama Adams on African communities in China.
On John Jay’s campus, 21% of students identify as Black, and the College is a federally designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI). Pioneering Black leaders on campus have made significant contributions towards promoting justice, including Lloyd George Sealy, the namesake of the College’s library, who became a professor after being the first Black man to hold several positions in the New York Police Department.
“It’s looking at our past,” said Dualeh, “that gives us ways to look forward to the future.”