Jah Davis returned to SUNY Cortland in Brooklyn on Saturday to help students at her alma mater at a conference aimed at healing wounded souls.
The conference is the Kings and Queens Conference, which caps off a month of activities at SUNY Cortland to mark Black History Month, and the conference is a 17-year tradition of the Black Student Union.
“I think the conference is a beautiful time to connect students with faculty, staff and other students of color on campus,” said Davis, a 2015 graduate and now associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Pratt Institute. “I also think the conference is especially needed at a time like this when a lot of people are still trying to understand our history as black people.”
The idea behind the three-workshop conference was to make attendees feel like royalty in their confidence, strength and pride, the university said in a press release.
The workshops focused on leadership, education and culture.
“We hold it every year in the last week of Black History Month, just like a close of Black History Month on campus,” said BSU President C’Ality Hackett.
In her opening remarks, Hackett argued against the idea of Africans being labeled as party animals or anti-intellectuals.
“We can still be intellectual and have fun at the same time,” she said.
It was followed by a series of lectures, with a panel of former students including Deirdre Wright, Devon Sanders, Shaneya Simmelkjaer, Jah Davis and Alfred Robertson, discussing post-traumatic slave syndrome – the legacy of centuries of slavery and generations of post-slavery institutions. racism – and black family structure.
“I will share my story in regards to my family and the intergenerational trauma,” Davis said. “Just to summarize what PTSD can look like today and how intergenerational trauma can impact our relationships with ourselves and with others.”
Wright decried unfair treatment in her speech, including the fact that black women in the United States are three times more likely than white women to die from complications of childbirth.
“Lower your head and shut up. This is how we survive,” Wright said. “Good people don’t beat people; good people don’t kill people; good people don’t torture people because of the color of their skin.
Simmelkjaer spoke about healing for black women.
“Black women’s traumas are often viewed as individual failures, yet there is little to no conversation about how different forms of systemic inequality traumatize them,” she said. “Wounds that are repeatedly opened never have a chance to fully heal.”
After five presentations, the club’s advisor, Professor Seth Asumah, gave them a round of applause. “I remember my years when I had you all in my classes. I know you’re going to get to a point where we have to commit to listening to each other, I think you’re almost getting there,” he said.
“I always support BSU because BSU really helped me when I was a student here as an undergrad,” Davis said. “BSU served as a place for me to practice student leadership to learn more about myself and my skills.”
It also means a lot to Hackett. She has been a member since she was a freshman.
“Like my first day on campus, I didn’t see anyone looking like me. So when I found out this club was run by students of color, I decided to get out there and try to meet more people,” Hackett said. “It started to make me feel more comfortable on campus. My experience would have been definitely different if I hadn’t participated in this club.