UB's BSU celebrates 49th solidarity day
Students and alumni look to celebrate past and future
"It was a period in time when the campus was very active in all kinds of movements, there were students for a democratic society that was just as vocal as were," said Gale Wells, one of BSU's founders from 1967. "These were all students that were [politically] active, who were against the war in Vietnam and racism."
On Monday, UB's Black Student Union held their 49th annual Solidarity Day, an event meant to support local black-owned businesses and galvanize black voters beyond the general election into local and state elections. The event was also a celebration of BSU's past as they approach their 50-year anniversary.
BSU was started in 1967 by Gales Wells and other African-American students that were brought into UB by the "Upward Bound Student" program, which represented the largest group UB had up to that point.
"We wanted to see an increased number of African-American students and faculty on the campus," Wells said. "And to be able to learn more about African-American history and culture, so we pushed for black studies program."
The group addressed intersectionality issues that affected other political and ethnic clubs on campus.
At that period in time, UB was seen as a left-leaning institution in Western New York.
"There wasn't just a BSU, there was also a black dance workshop that was started by myself and other women here at UB," Wells said. “There was a black drama workshop that was involved with strong connections with faculty that brought keynote speakers to the university year if we wanted to see them."
Wells emphasized the importance of how being involved, especially students, is how change is affected.
"It's all about education, when students are knowledgeable in their political science or economics classes addressing the social economic issues that are affecting the entire world, you begin to see the need to organize and consolidate," Wells said. "You recognize the opportunity in organizing and you begin together with others."
BSU's current E-board and members have kept this ideal alive, not only by continuing the tradition of black solidarity day, but by remembering the reason for and significance of the event.
Leslie Veloz, a junior English and psychology major and vice president of BSU, says BSU plans on utilizing upcoming events to celebrate the founding members of BSU.
"The Mr. and Mrs. BSU pageant is for those that empower and embody the values of the club, we plan bringing back members from the past 50 years," she said. "It's important historically for us because our ancestors worked so hard for us to have that right to vote."
With today being the final day in the general election cycle, it was a significant theme for the event, one that was not lost on those attending.
Malcom Gray, a senior political science major, said political involvement goes beyond voting for president.
"The black vote in the state and local government is about taking control of your community," he said. "People say they voted for the president, but if you don't vote for state and local officials then you're not investing or advocating for the change you want to see in your community. Every community is different and the only ones that can address the they're issues are those that live there."
For Wells, political involvement is something that was just as important when she and her colleagues started BSU in 1967 as it is now, and will be as important in the future.
"History is a continuum, so what I'm in awe of is how students still feel the necessity to stay organized," Wells said. "Don't sit on the sidelines, never think the work is done, because it isn't, and think about seven generations in the future and make sure the world is a better place" Wells said."
Kenneth Kashif Thomas is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org