Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00
The Town of Hempstead held its annual African American History Month celebration on Tuesday, honoring those of African-American heritage who continue to make important contributions to the community while paying homage to those who paved the way for the progress of the American culture.
The theme of the afternoon was “Surviving the Past – Moving to Higher Heights” and the celebration highlighted the progress the country has made toward equality. As Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said in her remarks, “Dreams are truly not limited by race. African-Americans have achieved ground-breaking success in government, law, medicine, sports and education among many other areas.”
Supervisor Murray then introduced the keynote speaker for the afternoon, former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who recently has been in the news as a possible candidate for the seat of United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Ford, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, served in the House of Representatives for 10 years, from 1997 to 2007, and now lives in both Memphis and New York. Ford spoke about this time in America being a crucial time for our country.
“This moment we face now is one that is full of a lot of opportunity and full of some peril if we don’t get some things right,” Ford said.
Ford said things are dysfunctional in many ways in Washington right now. “I’m a big believer that we elected a president to do a lot of big things, but if the country is not ready to do big things, do what the country will allow you to do and make progress along the way,” Ford said.
The five-term, former Congressman spoke about so many Americans being uncertain and unsettled about their future. Ford also spoke about the importance of educating the youth of the country so that they are fully equipped to compete in a global society.
“Change is a painful thing in many ways,” Ford said as he spoke of those men and women, many of whom were of African-American descent, who had the courage, fortitude and character to change the nation in years past. “If there was ever a moment in our nation’s history when that kind of leadership, that kind of courage and that kind of focus was needed, now is that moment…We, in so many ways, have been a country that has been content over the last 10 to 20 years, content about our successes, believing that success and prosperity would just come. During that time, people have caught up with us.”
Ford alluded to the tragic events of September 11, which he said demonstrated that the world is a different place and maybe we ought to think about our role in it differently. “We send our troops around the globe to try to export our way of life and we don’t practice it the way we should at home,” he said, adding that we send our troops to fight for our freedom and to ensure those who want freedom are able to enjoy it, yet we send money overseas by consuming products that the same nations that want to do us harm sell us. “We consume more of their products than we did before. Shame on us,” he said.
Ford concluded that we have a responsibility not only to celebrate those figures that were instrumental in the movement toward a more racially equal society, but also to celebrate the collective spirit, hard work and courage showed by many.
Following Ford’s speech, Supervisor Murray and Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby presented awards to town employees and community members. Among those honorees were John Hinton of West Hempstead, who is a 25-year employee of the town, and longtime Elmont resident and Elmont Community Coalition Council President Chet Collins.
Collins could not be at the ceremony, but his daughter Keli accepted the Distinguished Community Service Award on his behalf.
The honorees proudly have continued the tradition that those before them have set and continue to set an example for future leaders of the community and country.