The year was 1994. Nassau County was supposed to have built a park with a soccer field, a basketball court and picnic tables at the Five Towns Community Center in the mid-1970s, but for two decades, plans for the project languished on the desk of the center’s executive director, Jonathan Davis.
The community center sits in the heart of North Lawrence, one of the county’s poorest neighborhoods, across the tracks from the Village of Lawrence, one of its wealthiest. On the north side of the tracks, day laborers and housekeepers crowd their families into tiny apartments. On the south side, the wealthy reside in glorious mansions.
The private, nonprofit center provides health care and social services for the neediest among us. The park was supposed to give local children a safe place to play. The county, however, reneged on its promise to build it.
I noticed blueprints for the park in Davis’s office while on assignment one day as a Nassau Herald reporter. Davis and I discussed the park that never was for an hour, and at the suggestion of my editor at the time, Randi Kreiss, I wrote a series of stories about it, which were accompanied by Randi’s incisive editorials. Because of that coverage, then County Executive Thomas Gulotta got involved, and the park was soon built. Through that story, I learned about the power of the press to effect positive societal change. I also learned about how the poor are too often treated differently in a nation enamored of wealth and celebrity, which is a nice way of saying that they get the shaft most of the time.
I was reminded of that story while preparing for the Hofstra University Lawrence Herbert School of Communication’s Covering Suburban Poverty conference Sept. 26 and 27. It was a thought-provoking, at times horrifying two days, which brought together 17 longtime journalists and one high school teacher from as far away as Georgia and California, as well as parts in between.