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The Mass Media

Fourth annual BLM Day: ‘Black to the Future’

On Monday, Nov. 6, the fourth annual Black Lives Matter Day was held on the third floor of the Campus Center. It first started in 2020 during the large social unrest caused by the unlawful killings of several Black men and women, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, said Chiquita Baylor, Assistant Dean of Campus Involvement and event committee member.  

“The first [Black Lives Matter Day] was with Pilar Nelson,” said Baylor. “Everybody was protesting and we had students in 2020 who were still here…and wanted to bring folks together—so Pilar started it.” 

Black Lives Matter Day is now celebrated on the first Monday of every November and takes on different themes relevant to the Black community. Last year’s theme was titled “A Beautiful Resistance: Black Excellence Through Art Expression and Leadership” and included dance and music performances, community art, panel discussions and a keynote speaker. According to a report on the UMass Boston website, it explored “what it means to embody a beautiful resistance” through education and art. [1]

This year’s theme was “Black to the Future: Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM),” and the event focused on several topics, including, but not limited to, technology and equity, Black excellence in the STEM field, and bias in artificial intelligence. Before the bulk of these topics was broached, however, the event was opened with speeches from the Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Black Life, Dr. Joseph N. Cooper, and Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. 

During this opening, Dr. Cooper invited the room to have a moment of silence for African Americans who had been unjustly killed, as well as anyone across the African diaspora who had died because of “police brutality, unjust violence or any other systemic racism and abuse.” 

“On this day we uplift their lives and their legacies, as well as their family members,” said Dr. Cooper. 

While Black Lives Matter Day is about honoring and remembering these people, it is also about celebrating the Black community—at UMass Boston and elsewhere. Chancellor Suárez-Orozco highlighted this in his speech: “Today is also an occasion to celebrate Black beauty, Black brilliance, Black excellence,” he said.

Chancellor Suárez-Orozco also announced a scholarship for students in honor of George Floyd, among other successes UMass Boston has pushed for the Black community, such as the first systemwide restorative justice commission in the University of Massachusetts system, the first special assistant to the chancellor for Black life position, and the strengthening of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture. Yet, the Chancellor admitted there is still more to do. 

“While we have built and continue to build a strong foundation for diversity, equity and inclusion to flourish at UMass Boston, we are not there yet. ‘There’ being a place where people from all backgrounds, all life experiences, feel unfettered in their agency…” said Chancellor Suárez-Orozco.

After these initial speeches, Black Student Center Graduate Assistant Beni Sele spoke at the podium. 

“The Black Student Center is fostering a center of belonging and reducing feelings of isolation, offering academic assistance and mentorship to help students academically, emotionally and professionally,” Sele said. 

The event then welcomed four panel speakers to the stage—Adedire Adesiji, Michelle Barnes, Clifton Orcel and Robyn Gibson—all of whom are involved in the technology field in Boston. The panel focused on equality in technology and allowed students to connect and network with these people: successful Black men and women who have excelled in the STEM field. 

“The sooner that we start to get into those spaces, the easier it is for future generations to follow us because it doesn’t seem strange to see,” said panelist Barnes.

The event then split into two breakout rooms. One was titled “The View from their Lens: Elevating Black Women’s Voices and Lived Experiences in STEM through Photo-Elicitation and Conversation” with Dr. Kerrie Wilkins-Yel, and the other was titled “Philosophical and Sociological Perspectives  on African American Recruitment, Retention, and Employment in the STEM Fields” with Dr. Joseph E. Cooper. 

The keynote speaker, Dr. Renee Gosline, is a senior lecturer at MIT and runs the Human-First AI Group. She spoke about this during her talk and explained the group’s “human-first” approach to artificial intelligence. 

“We have a particular opinion on that,” said Dr. Gosline. “That any technology, any artificial intelligence we develop, should be human-first.” 

Dr. Gosline explained that in order to be human-first, people must understand the science behind what it means to be human. She broke this down into a dual processing system: Sometimes people make fast, split-second decisions, and other times people weigh many factors and make slower choices. In an easy analogy, she equated these decisions to shoots and ladders. 

One of the benefits of AI is it can turn ladders into shoots—make weightier decisions in a split-second. However, Gosline argues there is a benefit to leaving some friction in artificial intelligence, even arguing that it is essential. 

After the keynote speaker, the event broke for a networking lunch. However, this lunch had a special twist for the attendees and the organizers. Chiquita Baylor had the idea to ask the UMass Boston caterers to cook dishes from their own culture and heritage. This resulted in a rich display of food from cultures all over the world. 

“We had food from different diasporas—a Haitian station, a Jamaican station, Cape Verdean, Dominican [and more]” said Baylor. “This was one of the first times at UMass Boston we have utilized the different workers within our university catering system to cook the food.” In addition to this, Baylor stated the staff was able to come out front and talk about their culture. 

The fourth annual Black Lives Matter Day is available to watch in full on YouTube on the UMass Boston account; it includes the opening speeches, panel discussions and keynote speech. Anyone interested in joining or contacting the Black Student Center can do so through their email, [email protected], or their Instagram, which they check more frequently, @umbbsc. 


[1] https://www.umb.edu/media/umassboston/content-assets/documents/December_2022_BOT_report.pdf

About the Contributor
Skylar Bowman, Managing Editor