FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 20, 2019) -- Members of the Fort Drum community welcomed Ty Stone, president of Jefferson Community College, as the guest speaker for the annual African American/Black History Month observance Feb. 20 at the Commons.

Stone said that the integration of African Americans continues to be a challenge today in the U.S., and she encouraged attendees to make that a topic of conversation. In quoting the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she said, "Our lives begin and end, the day we become silent about those things that matter."

"Race matters, and we need to talk about that," Stone said. "While this may seem a very provocative statement, it is my hope that it promotes the conversation and exploration necessary to inspire unity, not division."

While race matters, Stone said that everyone has the responsibility of determining how much it matters.

"I believe when we acknowledge it, address it and deal with it, we all become stronger," she said. "We all have the ability to work together for the best in everyone."

Stone said that as a young student she had a passion for history, but she found that classroom material lacked anything more than a few prominent figures in African American history. She said an uncle gave her boxes full of books that provided her a deeper understanding of African American history, culture and literature, and this made a profound impact in her life.

"It is indeed fact that we must see what we want to be," she said. "And prior to those deliberate efforts of my uncle, I had not been exposed in a way that I could see myself through my early education."

Stone, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said that when she was appointed as JCC president it had not registered in her mind that she was the first African American administrator in that position. She remembers being proud of being selected to lead an institution that has provided educational opportunities for thousands of people.

Then she saw divisive remarks online that tried to diminish her pride.

"With anything new or different, there will be scrapes and bumps and bruises," Stone said. "It is the nature of transformational leadership, and I have to sacrifice so much less than those who came before me. So if it's a few anonymous words on a website, the price is well worth the investment."

She said that any discussion about race must be approached with civility and open-mindedness.

"We must always condemn, in the strongest way possible, hate and violence in all places and against all people," Stone said. "To do this we must be intentional in exposing our truths to the varying ideals, opinions, cultures and people. It is not someone else's job, it is ours."

Stone said that it is her hope that people have faith in one another's ability to address inequities and make a difference.

"Be an instrument of social justice and equity," she said.

The observance also featured music from the 10th Mountain Division Band, a video presentation, a poem reading and a performance from the Jefferson Community College Choir. Lt. Col. Eric Harrelson and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Fisher, 10th Mountain Division (LI) Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command team, presented a certificate of appreciation to each of the students for their contributions to the day's event.

In his remarks, Harrelson touched upon the significance of the observance theme "Black Migrations."

"We must not forget the trials and tribulations of the past, and use them as a motivation to create better social realities," he said.