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The community of Elmont held the sixth annual Black History Month celebration in Elmont Memorial Library on Sunday. Like the other ceremonies the previous five years, the celebration displayed the talents of the community's youth while those who have made significant contributions to the benefit of Elmont were recognized. However, there was something strikingly different about the ceremony this year. It was the first Black History Month celebration following an historic election in which a significant benchmark for social justice had been reached.

Prior to the awards ceremony in the library's auditorium, Aubrey Phillips, one of the members of the Black History Month Committee, moderated a discussion concerning change with six panelists - Assemblyman Tom Alfano, educator Karren Dunkley, Assemblyman Carl Heastie of the Bronx, attorney Andrew Munroe, college student Sophia Vilceus and local newspaper publisher Carla Cohen.

The panel engaged in a discussion on the economy, which is the primary concern among citizens right now. Assemblyman Heastie and Assemblyman Alfano, although from different political parties, agreed that the state's budget crisis should impact education and healthcare the least.

The discussion also centered on the election of President Barack Obama. Although the election of the new President may have been seen as an advance in social justice and another milestone for black Americans, the panel cautioned that President Obama can't cure all of society's problems.

While the President may be viewed as a leader who has the ability to inspire, it may be ultimately up to individuals to enact change. Dunkley, founder and executive director of Uhura Incorporated, stressed the need for people to take personal responsibility for working towards their goals. She pointed out that President Obama isn't going to come to your house to make sure you do your homework. Children of color, she said, need people they can touch, meaning role models such parents and teachers.

Assemblyman Alfano stressed the commitment to education the Elmont community has as a major tool for its community members to make a difference in their lives. "We can boast and brag about what we've achieved in education," he said. "Even though the economy's bad, we can't forget we're still doing an incredible job educating the children of this community."

Another subject discussed was whether the election of President Obama means that the country is one in which all citizens are equal. The panel agreed that, although the election of a black American as president was a step forward in terms of equality, there are still strides that can be made. "We haven't tipped the balance, but we've shaken it," said Cohen, the publisher of the Franklin Square Bulletin and Floral Park Gateway.

Vilceus, a 2007 graduate of Elmont Memorial High School, feels the election of President Obama was an important event because it gives our culture a new narrative to tell when discussing the achievements of black Americans and the advance of social justice.

On the election of the new president, Assemblyman Alfano added, "We have a President we can be proud of. Other nations know that America is living up to its ideals."

As the panel discussion was wrapping up, Randall Clarke, a graduate of Elmont Memorial High School and a member of last year's panel, stressed the need for children and young people to hear the panel discussion and the issues pertaining to them.

Following the roundtable discussion, an awards ceremony was held in the library's auditorium to not only remember black Americans who have made great contributions in building the country, men such as Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but to also recognize those community members who have made tremendous contributions for the betterment of themselves and others.

Assemblyman Alfano presented the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award to David Duchatellier. Although he could not be at the ceremony because of a recent hospital stay, Mr. Duchatellier's wife and daughter accepted the award on his behalf. Mr. Duchatellier has been an example of the ability to make a difference in the lives of others through his efforts to collect food and clothing to send to his native Haiti.

The other recipients of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award were Elmont Memorial High School students Sage Bowen, Francis Mitra and Xavier Roberts. These individuals, along with some of their classmates, followed their dream of creating an outlet for young people to express themselves. Their dream became a reality when Ethos, an online magazine, was launched. The magazine can be found at www.ethosmagazine.net.

Another prestigious award that is part of the Black History Month celebration is the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award. Mr. Phillips and Elmont Superintendent of Schools Al Harper presented the award to civic and community leader Joyce Stowe, who has worked to improve the quality of life of all in Elmont.

In her speech, Stowe spoke about the difficulties Dr. Woodson had to overcome to succeed. She said we need to summon that courage to inspire young people to pursue high academic performance and achievement to hope for better opportunities than our forefathers had.

In addition to recognizing community leaders, the Elmont Black History Month celebration showcased the talents the community possesses. Gotham Avenue School faculty member Terrence Lewis gave another inspiring performance, which was followed by performances by the Elmont Memorial High School cast of Guys and Dolls, the Sewanhaka District Chorus, the Elmont Jazz Masters and the St. John's University Voices of Victory.

The annual Black History Month celebration is building quite a tradition in Elmont due to the dedication of those responsible for putting it together. Members of the 2009 Black History Month Committee are chairperson Allyson Phillips, Scott Cushing, Carol Parker Duncanson, Tania Lawes, Dr. Sydney McCalla, Aubrey Phillips and Sandra Smith.

Although the Black History Month celebration is held annually, those who now have greater opportunities because of the courage of those leaders who have come before can celebrate each day.


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