NEWBURGH – Mount Saint Mary College students closed out Black History Month with a panel discussion featuring African American community leaders on February 28.
Hosted by the college’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Mount’s Black Student Union, the annual Black History Month Celebration featured Mount alumni and several former HEOP students.
The panelists were Torrance Harvey ’03, Newburgh councilman and teacher at Newburgh Free Academy; Kareem Donaldson ’09, guidance counselor for the City of Newburgh School District; Jessica Miles ‘11, coordinator at Cornerstone Family Healthcare; and Aleschia Johnson ’11, assistant director of Student Affairs for International Students and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
Questions and answer topics, presented by Mount students Maria Rivera of the Bronx, N.Y. and Kiana Comrie of Newburgh, N.Y., included what to do to positively impact the community, how to respond to racism, and the experiences that shaped the panelists’ career paths.
Bigotry is an issue that crops up in many aspects of life, said Johnson, but there are constructive ways to combat it. The higher education administrator explained that she seeks to foster friendships and understanding instead of enemies.
Harvey, founder of the 100 Men for Newburgh African American mentorship program, agreed.
“Stereotypes breed fear,” he explained, which he hopes to combat by offering positive programming via 100 Men for Newburgh.
Donaldson was inspired to enter the education field to give students an African American role model, which he didn’t always have in his classes growing up.
“It is so necessary to work within communities where students don’t have a voice or advocate,” he noted.
Johnson added that she wants to use her knowledge to help others, whether it be guiding high school students through the financial aid process or providing networking opportunities for her students.
“My biggest give back is on a personal level,” she explained. “You don’t have to do large scale things to make a big impact.”
The panelists concluded with their advice for the students as they continued on with their college careers.
Harvey’s advice was simple but poignant – “Fight for it,” he said, telling the students to not waste a single moment of their college education. He encouraged students to make the most of the connections that the Mount has provided them, and noted that he and Donaldson met when Donaldson was a student at the Mount. The two formed a mentoring bond that continues today.
“Don’t allow your zip code to influence your trajectory,” said Donaldson, encouraging the students to have “relentless determination to succeed.” Miles agreed, telling students to advocate for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions.
Johnson echoed their thoughts. “Don’t approach opportunities with an attitude of defeat,” she said. “Carry yourselves with pride, be confident in your abilities, and be bold in your stance.”