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SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Office of Diversity & Inclusion

Black History Month

The Black History Month Committee has a long rich history on the SUNY Downstate Campus. Formed in 1982 the committee organizes an annual series of cultural events that teach and celebrate black history in America. The Committee also recognizes outstanding contributions by African Americans on campus with its' Pioneer Recognition Award. With assistance from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion the committee has been instrumental in presenting uplifting and educational programs that foster cultural appreciation on the Downstate campus. Diversity is part of the rich fabric of SUNY Downstate and both the Black History Committee and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion create programs that highlight it's importance.


35th Annual Black History Month Celebration 2013

Former Mayor David Dinkins Delivers Keynote Address

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Each year, Downstate invites a distinguished American who has contributed greatly to the African African community, and to New York City and the nation, to deliver the keynote address at the opening day Black History Month ceremony. This year we were honored to have the Honorable David N. Dinkins, 106th mayor of New York City, accept the invitation. The theme of this year's event, held February 22, was "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality."

Robert Richards, senior hospital administrator and chairman of the Black History Committee, introduced Mayor Dinkins and described some of the highlights of his career. Currently Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, David Dinkins entered public life in 1966 as a member of the New York State Assembly and went on to serve as President of the New York City Board of Elections, as City Clerk, and as President of the Borough of Manhattan. In 1989, he was elected New York City mayor after a hard-fought campaign against former mayor Ed Koch. David Dinkins is the first and only African American to hold that position.

Known for coining the phrase "a gorgeous mosaic" to describe New York City and its diverse communities, Mayor Dinkins served as the city's mayor during a period of economic downturn. Nevertheless, he balanced four budgets, rebuilt neighborhoods, and reduced crime by bringing in Ray Kelly as police commissioner and hiring thousands of new officers. He also famously made the deal that has kept the US Tennis Open in New York City.

In recognition of Mayor Dinkins major contributions to the people and City of New York, his long-time friend NYC Councilmember Mathieu Eugene presented him a proclamation from the City Council honoring his distinguished public service.

Before beginning his prepared remarks, Mayor Dinkins looked out at the faces of the young students in the audience from PS 235, Parkside Preparatory Academy, and the High School for Human Rights and said, "I'm here because I just love children. I truly do." Borrowing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, he urged the students to be "the best that you can be," adding, "When you go out into the world, you will find that you are as good as anybody and better than most." Turning to the adults in the audience, he complained that "too many people today feel that our children cannot succeed – and that's nonsense!"

For the benefit of the students, Mayor Dinkins narrated scenes from his own childhood – about growing up during the Depression and being raised first by his mother and his grandmother, and later by his father when they could no longer support him. "I was a poor but happy child," he recalled, and told how by working hard he was able to graduate with honors from Howard University, earn a degree from Brooklyn Law School, and later win elected office.

"Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do," he reminded the students. "But the most important thing to remember is this: Don't be a bully.The big ones have to take care of the little ones."

In his keynote, Mayor Dinkins noted that while much has been achieved in the struggle for social and economic equality, many challenges still remain. "The day will come when those things that hold us in common far outweigh our differences," he said. "We will celebrate our distinctive ethnicities and cultures together, and not just once a year but every day."



Black History Month Celebration 2012

Brigadier General Stayce D. Harris Delivers Keynote At Annual Black History Month Celebration

photo of Stayce D. Harris with Kevin Antoine and Dean Ian Tayor

Kevin Antoine, Chief Diversity Officer, Brigadier General Stayce D. Harris, Ian Taylor, MD Dean College of Medicine.

Video: SUNY Downstate Biomedical Communications


photo of Stayce D. Harris

Brigadier General Stayce D. Harris
Photo Courtesy of USAF website

photo of Robert Richards

Robert Richards
Black History Committee Chair

Black History Committee Chair Robert Richards introduced Brigadier General Harris. General Harris echoed the theme of this year's Black History celebration – "Charting New Paths" – as she recalled the many times she was forced to veer from her chosen path, only to return by a different route on better and surer footing than before. Today, Brigadier General Harris is assistant to the commander of U.S. operations in Africa, contributing to the development of national security policies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She is also a commercial airline pilot. "You have to fly your own plane," she said, "and you have to make constant corrections to make sure your path is true."

Following her remarks, audience members were treated to a documentary film, curated by Kevin Antoine, JD, chief diversity officer at SUNY Downstate, tracing the history of African-Americans in aviation, beginning with the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII to today's astronauts in space. Many of the men and women the Brigadier General had named as personal heroes were depicted in the film.

New York City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, chair of the Council's Veterans Committee, presented Brigadier General Harris with a proclamation honoring her contributions to national safety and defense. "What I see today," he said, "is a reflection of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream. This is wonderful…this is great."