NABA Hosts Black Excellence Gala, Awards Black Student Leaders

NABA President Jessica Vaivao spoke at the Gala's opening./Emmad Kashmiri

By Serin Sarsour

Reporting Assistance By Gabriela Flores


   As this year’s Black History Month came to a close, Brooklyn College’s National Association of Black Accountants hosted a Night of Black Excellence Gala last Tuesday, Feb. 28. Student leaders in the BC community were recognized and awarded for their hard work on campus. The gala was co-hosted by the Black History Month Committee and the S.A.I.L. Center, as well as co-sponsored by the BC Undergraduate Student Government and the Black and Latino Male Initiative.

   To kick off the night where attendees dressed to impress, BC senior and co-host of the event, Amara Minott, described what Black excellence means to her. “It’s embracing who you are. It’s being authentic. It’s having self-love. And not taking no for an answer,” she said.

   Following the opening remarks, Jessica Bobadilla was invited onto the stage to sing the “Black National Anthem – Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Married couple Monique Ngozi Nri and Ahmed Abdullah performed poetry shortly after.

   “The purpose of the Night of Black Excellence is to show the world that we’re still here even through the pain of our ancestors, brothers, sisters, family, and friends, and that we have a voice, a community, and a presence on campus and in the world,” said Jessica Vaivao, a BC junior and the president of NABA.

   Before the award winners were announced, Shemeka Brathwaite, the gala’s keynote speaker and the program manager for NYC Men Teach at Brooklyn College, shared a few words. Recalling her past challenges, Brathwaite told participants how she pushed the limits and expectations of those around her, including when she garnered funds to study abroad in London and Paris as a fashion design student. In sharing her struggles and perseverance as a student, she hoped the audience could resonate with her experiences. 

   “If only you could see the view that I could see at this very moment. A room filled with a beautiful mosaic of unlimited, exponential potential,” Brathwaite said in her opening. “A room where you are appreciated, loved, and celebrated.”

   After feasting on a range of foods, including oxtail and sushi, the organizers announced the night’s awards. Minott won big, earning the Health and Wellness Academic Excellence Award, as well as the award for Humanities and Social Science Academic Excellence. In her acceptance speech for her second award of the night, Minott expressed her gratitude to the BC Anime and Manga Club as she is the president, and to the Personal Counseling Center at BC.

   “As an aspiring mental health counselor, I hope I can help my community, the Black community, the Afro-Caribbean community, who sees mental health as taboo. And make mental health affordable and accessible,” said Minott, noting her own struggles with mental health.

   Minott’s speech resonated with many, including Vaivao. In fact, one of Vaivao’s favorite parts about the event was hearing Minott speak about her life because she could relate to her struggles as a Black woman.

   Alongside Minott, BC freshman Cyle Paul also co-hosted the gala. “It was an exciting experience and I am grateful to be noticed as someone who could do what it qualified. A little nerve-racking at first, but being it was for a good cause overrides that,” Paul told The Vanguard.

   Vaivao was another award winner that night, winning both the Malcolm X Black Leadership Award and the W.E.B. Du Bois Economic Leadership Award. Each award was named after a historical figure that connected to the theme of the specific award. The Black Leadership Award recognized and celebrated Vaivao as a leader on campus who engages in and fights in topics relating to the Black/BIPOC community, as well as uplifting the community and working toward its betterment. On the other hand, the award for Economic Leadership recognized Vaivao as a student leader who has guided her campus community to economic excellence through entrepreneurialism, jobs, internships, and more.

   “At a moment, I felt undeserving or an imposter for my Malcolm X Black Leadership Award because I look up to other Black leaders on campus, such as Amara Minott […] However, reflecting on it now, I feel more confident in my award because I did relaunch NABA, I did fix and create the NABA clubroom with my members,” Vaivao said. “I will continue to do more for my community.”

   After awards were handed out, guests were treated to a final performance. Those in attendance appreciated the opportunity to celebrate young Black minds ready to change the world.

   “We are excellent because we are still suffering from racial inequality, racism, colorism, prejudice, and anti-Blackness and yet still rise to do better in our communities and have a focus on building a better future for our descendants,” Vaivao told The Vanguard. “A Night of Black Excellence is a night of Black celebration of our existence as a community.”