Black History Month event looks to the future

Speakers also consider the past


The evening’s presenters took in the applause of the audience.

By Regina Clarkin

It was an evening of stories and inspiration shared by youth and two keynote speakers at the Black Diamonds Academic Success celebration of Black History Month at Peekskill High School on Wednesday, February 8.

The audience of 100 people heard about well-known figures like Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks – but also less-familiar heroes including Denmark Vesey, Marcus Garvey and Claudette Colvin – people who advanced the cause of African Americans in this country. 

Martin McDonald, founder of the Black Diamonds, spoke in opening remarks about Black Resistance as a national theme for Black History Month celebrations.  Keynote speaker Dr. Alexandria Connolly gave a definition of resistance as “the refusal to accept or comply with something, the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.”  

Keynote Speaker Dr. Alexandria Connolly explains what Resistance is.

“Black resistance is pushing past where you think you can go. You’re supposed to have haters,” she told the audience “and the greatest way to get back to your haters is to have success. I don’t just celebrate black history, I celebrate the present and the future,” said Connolly, the founder and CEO of Culturally Responsive Environments and Discipline, a professional development and strategy organization that is focused on the intentional, developmental, and complex work associated with changing mindsets around equity and dismantling systemic oppression and racism.  

The subject of systemic racism was referenced by another speaker, Brother Arthur Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque Number 7 in Harlem, where he’s the student minister. “Black History challenges white supremacy, white hegemony. Black resistance is not a bad word and a negative connotation,” he said. “Black resistance is employed to suppress white supremacy. We have been watered down by white supremacy.”  

Black Diamond member Ruben Gray speaking about the theme of Black Resistance.

He explained the difference between being free and being emancipated.  To be free means to be fully complete, to be emancipated is to be free from someone’s hands but not someone’s control.   Muhammad went on to describe some of the Blacks throughout history who resisted the state of ‘sub existence’ they were relegated to such as Denmark Vesey, who lived from 1767-1822 in South Carolina, where he organized a failed slave insurrection. 

Nat Turner, who lived from 1800 to 1831 and led a rebellion of enslaved people in Southampton, Virginia, was another person Muhammad referenced. Turner was allowed by his slave owner to learn reading, writing and religion. Muhammad also referenced Marcus Garvey, who founded the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), with its own economy, factories and companies. Garvey is also responsible for creating the Black flag of red, black and green. Red represents the blood of his people; black for their skin color; and green for their land. 

Students in the Black Diamonds Academic Success Program, and members of the Girls Empowerment Movement participated in the program by highlighting other aspects of black history.  They spoke of Claudette Colvin, the 15-year-old who preceded Rosa Park in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

Zachary Allen spoke about his cousin Haywood Burns, who grew up in Peekskill, graduated from Harvard University and Yale Law School, and was the dean of the City University of New York Law School. He wrote numerous books, participated in the drafting of the South African Constitution. He was killed in a car accident in 1996 in Cape Town, South Africa. “Black identity challenges racial inequality.”


Black Diamond President Zachary Allen speaking about his cousin Haywood Burns.

“The struggle for black people is not over. We have the highest dropout rate and we are the most incarcerated. We have to unify and always resist what is not right,” said Muhammad. 

Peekskill NAACP President Priscilla Augustin, who has ancestors from Haiti,  spoke of what resistance looks like in a community such as Peekskill. “It’s being involved in community meetings. It’s picking up people and driving them to vote,” said Augustin.