Martin Luther King Day in Hempstead included galvanizing speeches from renowned local civil rights heroes. Yet, although the speakers told how Dr. King inspired their activism and achievements, their ultimate focus was on the next generation.
Youth groups comprised the bulk of the marchers who paraded on Monday from Kennedy Park along Greenwich Street: the Youth and Teen Dance Company of Hempstead, the cadets of Aviation High School in Long Island City, the Academy Marching Panthers from the Academy Charter School on N. Franklin Street, Boy Scouts Troop 280 and the ABGS Middle School Law Club.
The youth marched proudly with Mayor Waylyn Hobbs, Jr., Deputy Mayor Jeffery Daniels, Trustees Kevin Boone and Noah Burroughs, New York State Senator Kevin Thomas, and Bonnie Stephens-Murray of the United Peoples Organization, which has organized Hempstead’s MLK Day since 1993.
The parade culminated at Bethlehem of Judea Church on Greenwich Street.
As the program in the church began, facilitator Rev. LaChrista A. Brown called two Hempstead schoolchildren forward. Jordan Thomas read Matthew 4:43–45, which includes, “Love your enemies.” Ricardo Freemont delivered the invocation, thanking God for Dr. King and praying, “Thank you for keeping us focused at the time when we need you the most.”
Deputy Town Supervisor Dorothy L. Goosby said Dr. King provided the groundwork that enabled her and attorney Frederick Brewington to win her 1988–99 lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead, which gave people of color fair representation in the town council.
“We’ve got to help our children!” Goosby said. “Our children are more important than money. They are God’s gift and we’ve got to be careful.”
After a lovely rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” by the Hempstead High School Choir (director Rachel Blackburn), Mayor Hobbs and the village trustees presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to activist Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State Chapter of the NAACP.
Dukes, age 90, detailed her lengthy civil rights work in Nassau County. But, she said, her advocacy is not over.
“I’ve been working with sister Bobbie Powell on what’s going on in the Hempstead School District,” Dukes said. “Where are the services for our children? The money is here.”
Dukes asked the 50-plus children in the audience to stand.
“Don’t let nobody tell you what you can’t achieve,” Dukes said. “Soak up all the knowledge that is available for you. I’m counting on you.”
Keynote speaker Rev. Arlise Carlson, former principal of Front Street School in Hempstead, referred to Dr. King’s powerful drive for equality in education and health care.
Today, she said, things are better, but not yet as they should be.
“Do you know we can have the same doctor as someone else but get different health care?” Carlson said. “Do you know our children can be in the same neighborhood a mile from another district where the children get a better education? There’s still much work to do.”
Rev. Lynwood Deans, pastor of Bethlehem of Judea Church, praised the leaders that have carried forward Dr. King’s dream of equality.
“I came from North Carolina,” said Deans, “where we went to the colored bathrooms and the colored fountains and we didn’t have electricity, we had the kerosene lamps.”
Deans came to Hempstead in childhood and graduated from Hempstead Public Schools before entering the military.
“The struggle is still ahead of us,” he said, “but on this wonderful day we have capable leadership that we can look to and know that they are serving the people of God. And certainly our children are in the forefront of all that we are doing.”