Elmont Online—Highlighting Success thanks the many residents and friends of the Elmont community who participated in this year’s Black History Month Celebration. The sixth annual “Collaboration of Song and Spoken Word” once again fittingly took place at the Elmont Memorial Library, an outstanding public building and community center which, itself, is a shining example of what a forward-looking community can accomplish.
Mindful of the life and work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, the event marked an occasion to reflect on the past, chronicle the present, and project to the future. As Dr. Woodson said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Echoing that notion of a continuing history, Sophia Vilceus, one of this year’s Round Table panelists and a sophomore at City College, remarked that from childhood, young blacks are “fed with this master narrative about what we’ve gone through as people in this country; the same story over and over again.” However, in expressing her thoughts on the night Barack Obama was elected President, she added, “…finally we have a new narrative to tell. We’re not taking away what happened, but we’re now moving forward without dwelling on the past…It’s an amazing feeling."
EoL’s Black History Month Committee, chaired by Allyson Phillips, put together a program that not only emphasized the black community’s shared history and rich culture, but also allowed for presenters and residents to touch upon the nuances of “being black,” as demonstrated by an audience member’s commented on the black clairvoyant experience and a poignant reading by Gotham Avenue teacher Terrence Lewis of Langston Hughes’s essay, “Last Whipping.”
Committee member Aubrey Phillips led a lively panel in a discussion of current topics, including the effects of the nation’s economic crisis on education and healthcare, the meaning derived from connecting to one’s heritage, and the election of President Barack Obama—does it “tip the balance” … are we in an era of post-racism? (See below for excerpts from the panel discussion.)
The 2009 Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award was presented to Joyce Stowe (pictured above) , an Elmont resident, community leader and mother of four. Through her 40 years of community activism, Ms. Stowe has become a role model for others. Following Dr. Woodson’s belief about the pathway to conquering racism, EoL presents this prestigious annual award to focus on and educate the public about black contributions.
EoL’s Black History Month Celebration is “the premiere community event in Nassau County celebrating Black History, social justice and empowerment,” said Mrs. Phillips at the start of the Award Ceremony. She complimented Elmont’s young people for their volunteer contributions to the event: 2008 Elmont Memorial graduate Robert Anthony King’s service as award ceremony narrator; Chet Collins’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and Jason Reese’s singing of the National Anthem, the presentation of the colors and singing of the Black National Anthem by members of Girl Scout Troop 1527, and the artwork contributed by elementary school students.
As part of the ceremony, Assemblyman Tom Alfano presented his 21st Assembly District Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards to, in the adult category, David Duchatellier, the initiator of the Haitian Children’s Food and Clothing Drive, and to three young people, Sage Bowen, Francis Mitra and Xavier Roberts, for their creativity in starting the online magazine ETHOS . For the Black History Month Celebration, Sage, a talented artist, painted a large portrait of President Barack Obama in acrylic and pen on cloth that was displayed throughout the afternoon.
Addressing the “spoken word,” Gotham Avenue’s Terry Lewis gave a spirited presentation, which included his reading of “Last Whipping,” one of Langston’s “Simple” stories. Originally written as a newspaper feature, the story is about personal change…after a young man’s misdeed causes heartache to his Aunt Lucy. After Aunt Lucy gives the teenager a whipping for giving away one of her hens, Simple says: “When people cares for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul.” Lewis then read a humorous poem of his own, titled, “My President Looks Like Me,” in which he declares he “understands his re-spon-sibil-ity” and ends with “the change I attempt is me.”
Elmont Memorial High School Principal John Capozzi focused attention on recent student and school accomplishments, announcing that Elmont Memorial was named a New York State “benchmark school” for its excellence in performance; student Winston Waters was named an Intel Science Talent Search semi-finalist—a first-ever honor for Elmont Memorial High School; and students attending a Model United Nations conference February 4-8 received 8 awards out of the 9 “committees” in which they participated.
The program highlighted the accomplishments of Elmont in song through a high school student actors’ performance of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from the upcoming musical Guys and Dolls and the Sewanhaka District Chorus’s rendition of “John The Revelator,” both under the direction of Music Department Chair Eileen Kramer, and The Elmont Jazz Masters elementary students’ performance of Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues, directed by Anthony Pino. The St. John University Voices of Victory choir, under the direction of Nigel Gretton, sang three pieces, Your Love Divine, No Defeat and Tribute to Those Gone Before Us.
The ’09 Black History Month Committee—Scott Cushing, Carol Parker Duncanson, Tania Lawes, Dr. Sydney McCalla, Allyson and Aubrey Phillips and Sandra Smith—thanks all those who made the sixth annual celebration a huge success.
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Excerpts from the 4h Annual Round Table, “Are We Ready for Change?”
EoL’s 2009 distinguished panelists included:
- Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who has represented Elmont in Albany for the past 13 years. Assemblyman Alfano holds a strong reputation regarding progressive government and social justice issues.
- Carla Cohen, editor and publisher of the Gateway, Franklin Square Bulletin and Floral Park Bulletin newspapers. Ms. Cohen served as a credentialed journalist during the Democratic National Conventions of candidates Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
- Jamaican born Karren Dunkley, currently on leave from her teaching position at Elmont Memorial High School. Ms. Dunkley is among the leading education minds in the country. As part of Columbia University’s Doctoral Urban Education Leaders Program, she is serving as a Deputy Chief of Parent, Family and Community Engagement in Philadelphia, the nation’s eighth largest school district.
- Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie, representative of the 83rd AD in the Bronx. Assemblyman Heastie is co-Chairman of the Legislative Taskforce on Demographic Research and Reappointment and Chairman of the Labor Sub-Committee on Emerging Workforce.
- Guyanese born Andrew Munroe, a lawyer working for a Fortune 50 company. Mr. Munroe is creating a website to share his interest in Caribbean folklore.
- Sophia Vilceus, a 2007 graduate of Elmont Memorial High School, an educator, budding author and college student. Ms. Vilceus is an advocate in the fight against cancer and its impact on the family.
Hints of Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s words, spoken more than half-a-century ago, could be heard in many of the comments at the Round Table discussion. Let’s look at some of the issues:
Topic: Impact of the current economic downturn on education and healthcare
“The mere imparting of information is not education.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Karren Dunkley: Research shows that the Number One indicator of student success is teacher quality. It mitigates shortcomings at home; it mitigates family life, and it mitigates poverty. Teachers actually have to think about what’s happening in the lives of our children and the communities of our children. As a teacher, you can’t walk into a classroom and teach a child who is hungry…or emotionally abused. Ms. Dunkley expressed concern that social services will be severely impacted, and hoped that public officials will be mindful of “the whole child” when allocating money for education.
Assemblyman Tom Alfano: Education and healthcare are the two most critical issues. We have to ensure that we don’t take a pick axe to them and disarray the gains we’ve made over the years. Healthcare is so essential for so many reasons…the more and better primary care we have for our children and seniors and all of our people, the less emergency care they are forced to engage in, less long-term hospital stays they are forced to endure. Cutbacks to required services do a deep disservice to our economy. Assemblyman Alfano believes the people in Albany as a collective group are mindful of the impact on the state during this recession.
Topic: Connecting to one’s heritage as a way to mitigate psychological and emotional influences
“The differentness of races, moreover, is no evidence of superiority or of inferiority. This merely indicates that each race has certain gifts which the others do not possess.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Andrew Munroe: I feel more connected as a person by my feeling of connection to my culture. Some of what people believe is tied to failure ingrained by many nonwhites, especially when speaking of black Americans. That feeling of the slave experience and segregation are still fresh in hearts and minds. I choose to find the bright lights in my culture, such as song and jazz.
Topic: Reporting on education and culture in communities like Elmont
“I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Carla Cohen: In these communities, there’s a great crisis of confidence right now…people are frightened. Even if they are not yet impacted, they don’t know what’s coming. They’re worried about their children’s education. Older people are worried about their health and healthcare. A spotlight has to shine on everybody’s concerns. People seem to be waiting for some guru to say that it’s all going to end in a year, or two years. Nobody’s really laying out a plan…there’s lots of conjecture but no certainty.
Topic: The ecomomic downturn on campus
“I am a radical.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Sophia Vilceus: Education is becoming more difficult, less accessible to all. Books have always been expensive, but now it’s becoming even more impossible to go to school. You may have the will, you may have the desire, you may have the drive and the focus, but now when you go to the bursar’s office, the lines are long. With all the issues, healthcare and education, this didn’t happen overnight, so we can’t expect a change overnight. Remain patient, keep going and change will come.
Topic: Obama? The guru, the messiah we’re looking for
“In the long run, there is not much discrimination against superior talent.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Andrew Munroe: There are many urban or inner city areas, black or white, yet we know that there is a significant urban black poor, disproportionately so. Helping them get a car they cannot afford is not something that sustains. Nothing will change fundamentally unless we have deeper change. If you have sustained systemic poverty, you need sea changes of attitudes and circumstances and a host of things that will start the process impacting. Obama might influence the attitude of change.
Topic: Lifting communities like Elmont
“This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Assemblyman Alfano: In order to make sure that the community grows and thrives, we need to have a first rate educational system. I am most proud of my commitment to public education and fight for our fair share, and lucky I have lived to see the results. For the first time ever on the high school level in Elmont, we have an Elmont Memorial student rising up in the Intel Science program. That was a result of some state funds directed to the high school to help motivate and give students the tools to achieve at the highest levels. We can boast and brag and be proud of the achievements of our students. The better our schools are the more attractive our homes will be. So many of our kids are going to college and living the American dream, and it wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifice of so many people in this room who are educators. If you’re an educated person they can never take that away from you. It’s the legislators’ job to make sure the dream continues for all.
Topic: The election of Barack Obama — Did it tip the social balance?
“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.” … Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Carla Cohen: Unfortunately, absolutely not. Does Obama embody hope for most people…yes, he does. People desperately need a change over a wide variety of issues. He’s not just the first African American president, he is educated…visionary…articulate and inspiring. We haven’t tipped the balance but we’ve shaken it.
Assemblyman Carl Heasties: Do I believe that all of the history is gone, absolutely not, but I think it is a significant down payment, allowing people to believe that if you study hard, and do things right in life, you too can grow up to be the President of the United States or the President of American Express or a major corporation. I think the country will now be a little more accepting of a female president. When you break the norm, you open opportunities for others.
Assemblyman Alfano: Now that we have a black man as our president, we’ve passed the threshold. He made it and that’s cause for celebration. We are a great example to the rest of the world.
Ms. Dunkley: My hope is that people heard his message…that personal responsibility is key and that we must become the change that we hope to see. We have to transfer that to our children. Barack Obama will not come to your house after school to make sure that homework is done; that is the personal responsibility of parents. With our young men, Barack Obama will not help us to parent, it is our personal responsibility. While the election did not tip the social scale, it planted a seed. If Hillary Clinton won, would people ask is sexism over? Racism in America will not end with Obama’s election; he is an anomaly. Is he symbolic?…absolutely. What we need for our people, especially children of color, is to see people [of responsibility] that they can touch in their house everyday, people who live across the street, who are in their church, school and library. That is the hope that they ought to see, that they can believe in.
Topic: Who defines post racism?
“Let us banish fear.” Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Assemblyman Heasties: Not any one person. Blacks have to make it more difficult for people to turn them away when they apply for jobs, because we have it all together.
Ms. Dunkley: Policy will emanate from the grassroots. The elite and the intellectuals will demonstrate to us that we’re in a post racial society. Higher education institutions will begin to teach it. To truly address race does not mean that we do not speak about race. It is so much a part of ethnicity and culture.
Mr. Munroe: We have to look to solve problems within the context of who we are. Take on a mentoring role.
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