Dedication to celebrating Black history and culture and ongoing commitment to improving the lives of others have earned SUNY Oswego junior accounting major Samisha Elysee the Newman Civic Fellowship, a national honor.

Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education, coordinates the yearlong fellowship program that provides training and resources to future leaders.

Elysee and Tiffany Flores co-created and co-coordinated the Black Excellence Tour on campus in August 2020 that highlighted the contributions and accomplishments of Black artists, scientists, inventors and other achievers.

“With everything that was happening, I was really upset because it seemed like I couldn’t do anything for my own community being stuck home,” Elysee recalled. “We really wanted to do something for the Black community. Tiffany and I were talking, and I said, ‘Why don’t we do a celebration?’”

Plans dovetailed for an Aug. 20 event that introduced new students to both the campus and the celebration of Black achievements.

“During fall Welcome Week, over 200 students participated in a five-part scavenger hunt across campus, stopping at locations that focused on Black music, food, scientific and technological advancements, Black wealth, financial literacy and issues of cultural appropriation,” President Deborah F. Stanley wrote in Elysee’s nomination letter.

“The Black Excellence Tour was created to shed light on not just our plights, but showcase the accomplishments of the Black community,” Elysee explained. “For decades the Black community has been depicted through tragic images that imply our lives do not matter.”

In addition to its educational components, the tour also featured the work of local Black artist Jaleel Campbell and individually packaged food items from local Black-owned restaurant Creole Soul. 

The event sought to provide some positivity during what was a challenging time between the fight for racial justice and the ongoing pandemic. Watching the events unfold over the summer, with continuous images of unjust killings of Black people, Elysee and Flores wanted to find a way to counter the discouraging developments.

“While every social justice situation requires a nuanced and balanced approach and while it is important to acknowledge hardships, it is also important to celebrate and elevate the accomplishments of the Black community,” Elysee said. “This was the goal of the Black Excellence Tour.”

“Samisha’s dedication to social justice and inclusion has contributed to a more welcoming, inclusive, and well-informed campus community,” Stanley noted.

The tour, Elysee hopes, is going to be one part of a journey for the future of incoming students of color and the mental health of the Black students on campus.

“My hope is that the Black Excellence Tour was just the tipping point of a larger, more collaborative and educational event I hope we can accomplish annually on campus and in the town of Oswego,” Elysee noted.

Positive change

Beyond that very well-received event, Elysee “is committed to addressing systemic injustices and creating positive change, especially through engaging and educating her fellow students,” Stanley wrote. “She leads her peers and organizes cultural events such as Black History Month celebrations through the Student Activities Planning Board and the annual ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) Student Leadership Conference.”

For Elysee, her work is about doing what she can to make lives better for her fellow students, whether through organizing and promoting events or through initiatives like SAPB making self-care kits available to students -- which was so popular they had to schedule a second round. She continues to plan events that provide students a welcome break from academics and the pressures of the pandemic. 

With a minor in entrepreneurship, Elysee also runs her own company, Shea Élysée, LLC, while excelling in the classroom and in her active student life.

“She has also developed her own cosmetics business that caters to the Black community; a group which the market often overlooks,” Stanley wrote. 

In addition to the opportunities made possible by the fellowship, Elysee hopes to complete a master’s degree and earn her Certified Public Accountant certification while growing her own company. She has learned about running a business and marketing through classes and activities, but still wants her work to have a greater impact.

“I plan to expand in such a way that I will have even more influence to invest into the Black community’s affairs and work towards better corrective promotion, representation and economic change for us,” Elysee said.

The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes and supports community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers at Campus Compact member institutions. Fellows are nominated by their president or chancellor on the basis of their potential for public leadership.

Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides students with training and resources that nurture their skills and passions and help them develop strategies for social change. The yearlong program, named for Campus Compact founder Frank Newman, includes virtual learning opportunities and networking as part of a national network of engaged student leaders.

While she was surprised by the award, Elysee found it a welcome offshoot of trying to improve the lives of others.

“It’s really a great opportunity to have,” she said. “When you’re trying to do something out of the goodness of your heart, to think it’s being reciprocated makes me really grateful.”