“The essence of Blackness”: New Paltz celebrates first Black History Month Grand Convocation

The campus community gathered on Feb. 28 for the finale of a rich series of academic and social programs celebrating Black History Month: a joyous Grand Convocation featuring performances, awards, a keynote address from Broadway star Bonita Hamilton, and more. 

The celebration marked the culmination of the 2024 Heritage & Horizons series, developed by a Black History Month Steering Committee led by Assistant Professor of Black Studies Shelton Johnson. The new program aimed to elevate the Black History Month experience at SUNY New Paltz through events with guest experts celebrating themes including Business, Government Relations, Education, and Arts & Culture. 

“I’m grateful for all the individuals that lent a hand in getting this done, and showing up and out today,” said Johnson. “We have a large campus community, and the support for this series has been overwhelming.”  

The Grand Convocation was a celebration of Black excellence in the arts, with performances including those from student Afro-beat dance team Golden Roots, campus gospel choir Voices of Unity and a poetry reading with the Ulster County Poet Laureate Kate Hymes. Click here for a full photo gallery of the ceremony.

“It’s really an honor to celebrate the rich tapestry of heritage and history that identifies the essence of Blackness,” said Black Studies Lecturer Anthony Dandridge. “We must continue throughout the rest of this year because we just don’t do Black History in the month of February. We do Black History all year round.”  

Hamilton’s keynote address was a highlight of the program. The actor has enjoyed a successful career in theatre, renowned for roles in major productions including “The Lion King” and “The Color Purple.” 

“After 20 years of living my dreams on Broadway, I’ve had the countless pleasure of taking the arts and culture of Broadway into the classroom,” she said. “The classroom would show itself in a new light each time, brighter than the lights on Broadway. Classrooms are designed so that students can first learn the rules and earn the right to someday break, reimagine, reinvent and remember the rules, but in a more creative space.” 

The ceremony included a stirring tribute to the late Professor Emeritus Zelbert Moore, a beloved figure within the New Paltz community and a longtime leader in the Department of Black Studies, which was among the first such academic departments at any university in the United States.

Awards were presented in Moore’s name to a student and a staff member who embody his commitment to excellence in scholarship and community engagement. Recipients of the inaugural Zelbert Moore Legacy Award were Anthony Cooper ‘24 ‘25g (Mathematics Education) and Scholar’s Mentorship Program Director Mark Rumnit ‘93.

“Dr. Moore was a mentor and a friend to me, and one of the things he taught me was that students will always surprise you,” said Rumnit. “This has been a wonderful career for me, and I see every day what he meant when shared this with me.”  

“I receive support from this community wherever I go,” said Cooper. “I am very happy to know that because of people who believe in me, there is no limit to my potential.”  

Click here to learn more about Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz