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Chance encounter turns Glen Cove High School alumnus into activist

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Antwan Brown’s community activism began when he was handed a bullhorn at the Black Lives Matter Rally and March through Glen Cove and Sea Cliff on June 7.

“It was a learning experience that things do happen for a reason, and any type of opportunities can come out of the blue,” said Brown, 25, of Glen Cove, who graduated from Glen Cove High School in 2013. “I was down there to take a few pictures and see a few people, but when I got the megaphone it was like a calling . . . I was happy when everyone got behind me and I was able to be that leader.”

Brown not only used his voice to lead the now well-known rallying cry, “Black lives matter!” He also made the acquaintance of Glen Cove Police Chief William Whitton after protesters kneeled in solidarity with victims of police brutality.

Whitton told the crowd that he stood for the movement,but would not kneel with them. He said later that asking law enforcement officers to kneel can be seen as an attempt by protesters to demand acquiescence on the part of those officers. His decision not to take a knee, he said, does not define his message or values.

“I didn’t know who [Whitton] was, but the crowd was trying to be disrespectful to him, and I said, ‘He deserves respect, so let him talk and let him voice his opinion,’” Brown said. “When he didn’t kneel, I wasn’t really appreciative of it, but I understood at the same time that his job wasn’t to be out there to kneel with us — his job was to keep order.”

A member of Brown’s family who works for the GCPD put Whitton in touch with Brown after the protest, and the two met. That first meeting led to more meetings.

“He’s a cool guy,” Brown said. “I like him. He’s somebody that seems to be behind me 110 percent with whatever goals and missions I’m trying to get across. So, as a man, I do respect him.”

“He’s a really nice kid,” Whitton said of Brown. “I told him eventually that I’d love to see him on this job and become a police officer. He seemed very humbled by that. He’s a very bright kid, super focused, really knows what he wants and how he would like to see it happen.”

Whitton said that Brown’s even-temperedness and his ability to communicate effectively would make him an ideal police officer. The best communicators, Whitton said, make the best cops. Brown said he was considering the idea, but he’s unsure about it as a career choice.

Mayor Tim Tenke announced the formation of a new committee, Moving Voices, at the July 2 Town Hall meeting, to address questions and concerns about the GCPD. Brown is spearheading it. He said he hoped to raise awareness of issues relating to people of color in the community. He also plans to raise money for scholarships and take students on college tours, hold food drives and other fundraisers for students who would not otherwise be able to go on field trips from Glen Cove’s schools.

“If I decide to try to retire in the next 10 years, I can’t,” the Rev. Roger Williams, of the First Baptist Church of Glen Cove, said at the meeting. “Because listening to this young man talk tonight, I want to ask God to give me another 100 years so I can work hard to make sure we get everything he just asked for. To see that, you make my heart feel good, young brother.”

Brown said that Williams’s words meant a lot to him.

Glen Cove Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna said she would welcome the scholarships and field trip funding with open arms, and that she was proud of graduates like Brown who have worked to give back to the community.

Brown said he planned to start a thrift store and use its proceeds for projects that will help the community. “I think we’ll have a great benefit for the people of color in the community if it’s done the right way,” he said. “I’m excited for the committee, but I’m more excited about what change it will bring through the committee. I want to see change actually get done, taken care of.”

For further information on Moving Voices or to get involved, email movingvoicesforward@gmail.com.