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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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