Soledad O’Brien Supports Black History Education

Jean-Doris Muhuza, a member of the Student African-American Brotherhood, slumped in his seat. Although Soledad O’Brien answered his question — “how can the university continue developing Black History Month outside of the single month of February?” — Muhuza was looking for a little bit more from the former CNN anchor and her esteemed panelists at the Black in America Tour.

“I feel like the university doesn’t do its full part to give back to minorities and to bring more awareness to the lack of minorities on campus,” Muhuza said.

Student African American Brotherhood member Jean-Doris Muhuza, left, waits on line to ask former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien for ideas to make black history an all-year-round commitment at Stony Brook University.
Student African-American Brotherhood member Jean-Doris Muhuza, left, waits on line to ask former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien for ideas to make black history an all-year-round commitment at Stony Brook University.

According to the university’s Office of Institutional Research, Stony Brook University’s student population is approximately eight percent black or Hispanic minority, and Muhuza, a sophomore, is part of this group. Although the university has held several events this month in honor of Black History Month, including a spoken-word event that the brotherhood organized, he thinks that they should do more. And he is not alone — many try to educate the student population about an alternative perspective that is not taught in history textbooks.

“They can do a lot more in this one month out of twelve,” Muhaza added.

The #BlackinAmerica Tour, which was held at the Staller Center, included a presentation by O’Brien, followed by a panel discussion with Luis Paulino, Etan Thomas and Joan Morgan. The event was held in an attempt to address the lack of conversation about racial problems in America, but along the way debated topics including community policing, racial profiling, controversial crime reduction tactics and police battery, which even exists on college campuses.

Panelist Luis Paulino‘s opportunities were cut short. In 2012 Paulino, a college football player and recent college graduate of DePauw University, was subjected to racial profiling and police battery one night in Brooklyn. Paulino, now a licensed realtor at Highline Residential, is the founder of an organization called Spoken Word Affecting Generations, which focuses on youth development and self-empowerment.

Freshman Stuart Reimbeau said that although he has not experienced “any life changing accounts of discrimination,” it definitely still exists today in one form or another.

“Being black doesn’t mean what it used mean,” Reimbeau, of Brooklyn, said. “I have the same opportunities as everyone else on campus.”

Sydney Bryan, a sophomore English major, said she is happy to be at a diverse university. In comparison to her childhood and teenage years in Medford, a primarily white residential area. Stony Brook University is great, she said, though she “still is in the minority.” Bryan added that by “contributing to what it means to be black in America” she can better understand the conversation as a whole.

Students as young as elementary and as old as in college face a misrepresentation of black history in their education, Muhaza said. Etan Thomas, former NBA player and author of a collection of poems called More Than An Athlete, said he has had to have what O’Brien called “the talk” with his nine-year-old son. The talk, Thomas added, was very difficult to explain to his son, who he taught should not have to worry about what it means to grow up being black. Thomas wants nothing more for his son to worry about what is on television or who is playing on his favorite sports team, not the color of his skin.

Paulino said that a person’s race should be embraced rather than letting it be a definition.

Therefore is the lack of education to blame?

“A lot of education systems don’t really talk about what occurred, besides what is in a textbook,” Muhuza said. “If there was more awareness, that would be great. It would be great to hold this conversation even after this month.”

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