May 11, 2015
Hundreds Attend Black History and Alumni Award Celebratory Event
Faculty Mentor David Fullard, honoree Melba Tolliver ’98, President Merodie Hancock and honoree Robert Roach Jr. ’96 at the college’s 2015 Black History Celebration and Alumni Award Event. Photo/Empire State College
A perfect spring day in New York City set the stage for the college’s annual celebration of black history and its alumni award event.
In addition to changing the date for the ceremony from February to May, to avoid the blizzard conditions that have caused event cancellations in the past, the event moved from the State University of New York College of Optometry on West 42nd Street to Greenwich Village and The Great Hall at Cooper Union.
Robert Roach Jr. ’96, the general secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and Melba Tolliver ’98, the first black person ever to anchor a network news program, were recipients of the 2015 SUNY Empire State College Distinguished Alumni Award.
Roach was introduced by Tom Buffenbarger, president of IAMAW who, in characterizing the union’s diverse leadership, said it all started with Roach. Buffenbarger went on to praise Roach’s decades-long service to all working women and men across the nation.
In his remarks, Roach reminded the audience that unions and institutions like SUNY Empire continue to help break the cycle of poverty for many people. He urged young people to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them by “… great institutions like SUNY Empire State College.”
Video of Buffenbarger's introduction and Roach's acceptance remarks is available at
Tolliver, who is perhaps best known for her work as a reporter for WABC-TV in New York City, was introduced by Hwesu (WAY-sue) Murray, a former producer at the station. The two collaborated on many stories, including those that aired on “Like It Is,” the groundbreaking public affairs program focused on African-American issues, which ran from 1968 to 2011.
She thanked all of those in the audience who helped her succeed in the competitive world of broadcast journalism and remarked earlier, “No one succeeds through their own efforts alone.”
Video of Murray's introduction and Tolliver's acceptance remarks is available at
Hundreds turned out for the event recognizing the honorees, including faculty, students, staff, members of the Empire State College Foundation board of directors, the College Council for SUNY Empire State College and many friends of the college.
Student members of the Black Male Initiative served as ushers and members of the student club Minority Students in Action also volunteered their time to assist at the event.
Live jazz performances, an important hallmark of American and black history, bookended the event with the Mansoor Sabree ’00 ensemble opening and the Marcus McLaurine ’09 quintet concluding the celebrations.
Images from the event are available on the college’s Facebook fan page at
Buzz already has begun about next year’s event.