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Dr. Malika Carter Honored with Harriet Tubman Freedom Award 7/1/2021


Dr. Malika Carter, chief diversity officer at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), was honored for her contributions to the community during Juneteenth celebrations in Syracuse.

Carter was presented with the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fund Award during the Syracuse NAACP's 42nd Annual Freedom Fund Virtual Dinner on June 19. The highest honor given by the organization is presented annually to an individual whose extraordinary leadership and efforts have contributed to eradicating racial injustice, promoting social equity, and advancing and improving the community at large.

Carter joined the ESF community in August 2017 as the College's first chief diversity officer (CDO). She is also served as the CDO for SUNY Upstate Medical University and is the chief executive officer of Passion4Pivot LLC, a social justice consulting firm. Before coming to ESF, she was the inaugural CDO for Worcester, Massachusetts.

"Dr. Carter's work on behalf of ESF and the greater Syracuse community not only educates us all on how to be more inclusive but also inspires us to be the best we can be," said ESF President Joanie Mahoney. "The Harriet Tubman Freedom Fund Award is a well-deserved honor."

Carter developed much of her work ethic and passion for social justice growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and spending her summers in Arkansas and Mississippi visiting family.

"The South has a different flavor than the North," Carter said, "so there are some things I saw that really opened my eyes to the differences between these places and also to the different shades of behavior and the different types of language that people use to refer to things like justice or equity or diversity or inclusion or exclusion."

Carter knew she wanted to work toward social justice and pursued that goal by earning multiple degrees. While earning her bachelor's degree, Carter said she had the "good fortune of being poor" which enabled her to see not only race-based issues but also the stress of poverty dynamics.

As an undergraduate Carter would stay in the student affairs office after classes to save money on transportation. Carter realized if she became a student leader she would be invited to attend dinners and other events. "I could sit and eat and drink with people who I admired. It was a mind of poverty, but I didn't realize that was going to be my way to attain an educational profile."

That was the beginning of her passion for inclusion, diversity and equity. "I only saw people sitting in a room and joining - that is one of the reasons I became a student leader. So, because I couldn't go home - I didn't have the money to get back and forth - I sat in the office of the only black woman working in student affairs, and I sat in her office because the bus ride for me was an hour and 45 minutes home."

Carter took advantage of as many opportunities as possible in her leadership roles and once "at the table" lifted others up and "brought them along." She is actively involved in numerous community groups but emphasizes the importance of getting out and simply being part of one's community, whether it's walking in a Pride parade or sitting in spiritual ceremonies for indigenous people.

"I'm grateful because, with this award, I feel as though many more people can utilize this brain, these hands, this body, this talent that I have. I'm hoping to even be used to point to others, I want to make sure that others know what this community's capabilities are. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Carter's experiences are interwoven to create the path she is on today. "I liken that to Harriet Tubman," Carter said. "Maybe she was thinking 'I'm doing this because I want to do it. I feel the conviction to do this and the path could lead me anywhere.' And that's what happened to me."