“United We Stand,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Brave, Love, Amazing, Caring and Kind” were just some of the messages 30 community members scrawled on the pavement at Elmont Road Park as the sun set last Friday, in the first of three Black Lives Matter events held on Elmont Strong’s Membership Weekend.
The group seeks to “restore, protect and conserve” the community, according to its website, and “make change happen through beautification, public relations efforts and opportunities for continuous community involvement.” Additionally, its founders hope to strengthen relations with the Nassau County Police Department, and use “our voices and strength and muscles to actually invoke change,” according to Rachelle Lewis.
Lewis, Sarah Campbell and Renee Williams formed Elmont Strong about a month ago, after they held several events for community members during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York on Pause order. They placed cups in the fence at Elmont Memorial High School to spell out “Elmont 2020,” for instance, and painted hearts that they hung around the Parkhurst neighborhood. The group’s first official event was held on June 20, when they planted flowers around the sign for the NCPD’S 5th Precinct.
Then Elmont Strong got involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, following several incidents of police brutality against Black people. Elmont’s population is 45.5 percent Black, 21.4 percent Latino and 14.8 percent white, according to Data USA, and, Williams said, “Black and brown children in Elmont need to know they’re important.”
So, she said, the group decided to hold events that would provide parents and children with creative outlets to deal with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot on March 13 when three plainclothes Louisville, Ky., police officers entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant, and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed while jogging in Georgia on Feb. 23, and celebrate their lives.
The first of these events was “Chalk the Walk for Breonna Taylor,” in which children and parents expressed their feelings about Taylor’s death by writing messages and drawing images on the sidewalk of Elmont Road Park. Atira Hall said she thought the police officers who killed Taylor should be arrested, and 10-year-old Shyann Stewart said she saw “a lot of cops killing Black people because of the color of their skin” on television.
“They should all just learn to get along,” Shyann said, adding that many Black people, like herself, “support and want to be friends with white people.”
Gabbie Lewis, Rachelle’s daughter, noted that police brutality against Black people has been happening for decades, and is continuing to happen today. She recounted attending a protest in Valley Stream the night before to show her support for a woman named Jennifer McLeggan, who claims that her white neighbors have been harassing her and calling local law enforcement on her for minor infractions. “There’s millions of Jennifers out there,” Gabbie said.
Parents also used the “Chalk the Walk” event to teach their children to stand up for what they believe in and get involved in the community. Natasha Welch, leader of Cub Scout Pack 294, signed up to become a member of Elmont Strong when it began. She said it started out as a small group of people who shared a common interest — Elmont.
Sevitre Ferdinand, who moved to Elmont from Guyana about 20 years ago, said she got involved because she was teaching her children to be leaders in the community. “I want to show them a good role model,” she said, adding, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The group also held a “Walk 2.26 miles for Ahmaud Arbery” event Saturday night. Williams explained that they chose the distance because Arbery was killed in February and would have been 26 in May. But in order to make that distance, Campbell said, participants would have to circle the track at Elmont Memorial High School nine times. At the end of each lap, their hands were stamped with a heart by Terrell Lewis, Rachelle’s son, who said that what happened to Arbery could have happened to “any one of us,” and called the peaceful walk a symbol that Elmont residents believe in something larger than themselves.
For more information about Elmont Strong or to become a member, go to www.ElmontStrong.com, or follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram.