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      For some, learning about other cultures is the stuff of textbooks and documentaries. But Elmont residents need only step outside to find more than 100 different countries represented there, from Guyana to Haiti to Peru. "Elmont is the most diverse zip code in the entire country," said resident Marsha Darling, professor and director of the Center for African-American and Ethnic Studies Programs at Adelphi University. "That is part of our strength." The community’s strength was the focal point of Elmont Online’s 1st Annual Roundtable Discussion on Empowerment, Opportunity and Social Justice, held on Feb. 11 at the Elmont Public Library. Darling served as a panelist, alongside WBAI-FM’s TalkBack! radio host Hugh Hamilton, Assemb. Thomas Alfano (R-North Valley Stream) and Elmont Memorial High School graduate Randall Clarke.

      "This discussion is very important for Elmont," said Aubrey Phillips, event coordinator and moderator and member of the Elmont Union Free School District Board of Education. "It is the beginning of hope, growth and opportunity for all residents." Recently the town has been in the spotlight due to residents’ quality-of-life concerns. "Inasmuch as we like to believe we live in an egalitarian society, for every $1 of wealth in white America, a black household has $.10," said Hamilton. The members of the panel agreed that education would be the stepping-stone to bridging that gap. "Without education, there is no equity of opportunity in America," said Alfano. "We live in a celebrity-driven culture, [with] so many role models who don’t deserve that merit. We need to counterbalance that through the schools." And each year, the event honors one local role model who does deserve the title, with the Carter G. Woodson Award. Dr. Woodson is well known for being the father of black history education in America. After founding the Association for the Study of Negro life and History in 1915, he went on to initiate Negro History Week in 1926. Fifty years later, his legacy, renamed the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, extended the week into the monthlong observance we celebrate today: Black History Month. "This is a point in the year for the nation to reflect on the contributions of African-Americans—neglected African-American history and contributions often forgotten and not recognized," said Carol Parker Duncanson, this year’s Woodson Award winner. Duncanson is a nationally known nutrition specialist and 15-year resident of Elmont who conducts workshops for parents, students and staff at local schools. She was honored in a ceremony following the discussion as part of the community’s annual celebration. "These events are important because they celebrate the energy and vitality of American life," said Anthony Grimaldi, Elmont Public Library reference librarian. "There is a wonderful tradition here of upward mobility and courage." Ironically, the site of the discussion was the former Alva T. Stanforth Junior High School, which stood abandoned and vacant for nearly a quarter of a century. The school closed in 1984 due to declining enrollment, and after various plans for the property came and went, it reemerged as the new Elmont Public Library last September. This meeting of the roundtable marked the first celebration of the annual Black History Month event at the new library, and as the discussion came to a close, one of the last questions was aimed at the panel’s youngest voice. When asked if he thought the adults were "getting it right," Clarke, now president of the Black Student Union at Queens College, emphasized the need to better define education within the school system. He advocated including more black role models in the history books than the two most often focused on, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. "Remember that America is not all about being the same," said Randall. "It’s about being different—and that’s a beautiful thing."