African-American Celebration Teaches Ed Smith Students Personal Responsibility

Feb 27, 2015

Syracuse City School District Education Commissioner Mark Muhammad speaks to students at Ed Smith K-8 School on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.
Credit Ben Miller, WAER News

As black history month nears its end, students at Syracuse’s Ed Smith School celebrated on Friday African-American leaders’ contributions to society. 

During the 12th Annual African American Panel Discussion, three local leaders emphasized the importance of self-empowerment.  Common Councilor Khalid Bey, who spoke on the panel, advised students to take control over the present. 

“Take responsibility for what you do in the moment to assure that you create a respectable past and a promising future. That doesn’t happen by daydreaming,” Bey told students and teachers. 

Black parents who lived before the civil rights movement usually pass down the mindset and attitudes of segregated America to their children, Bey said, adding that this mentality can create glass ceilings.  

“For people who continue to live in the remnants of that in the 50s and 60s, even 70s, they passed that same behavior to their now adult children who have children – an explanation on circumstance, but not an excuse.”

Another panelist, Mark Muhammad, the Syracuse school district’s education commissioner, echoed Bey’s view that African-Americans often allow their disadvantaged environments to control them.  For him, those who view themselves as victims can’t achieve anything because “you give that power away and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do anything because... I’m black; because I’m poor; because I live on this side of town or the other side of town,” Muhammad said. 

The event also included the U.S. Postal Service’s unveiling of a commemorative stamp, which features Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African-American architect to graduate MIT.  Though it’s only a stamp, it still means a lot to the students, Muhammad said. 

“When I was growing up, there weren’t any black people on stamps. This is a fairly new thing,” he said. “So, I think it probably makes them feel good to see their heroes – people they don’t know, but people who look like them – on a stamp.” 

Paula Johnson, who co-directs the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University's College of Law, also spoke on the panel.  Ed Smith students also danced to Michelle Obama's and Beyonce's workout video: "Move Your Body."