Civil Rights icon honored on MLK Day


The Town of Hempstead celebrated its 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and civil rights icon and longtime NAACP leader Hazel Dukes was honored with a Hempstead lifetime achievement award.

Local student bands and members of the Hempstead ROTC marched from Kennedy Park down Greenwich Street to the Judea United Baptist Church to pay tribute and honor Dr. King and gathered inside as Village of Hempstead Mayor, Waylyn Hobbs, Jr., alongside Long Island civil rights and religious leaders to honor the New York state civil rights icon, longtime NAACP President and Long Island native Hazel Dukes.

Dukes is president of the NAACP New York State Conference and a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors, a member of the NAACP Executive Committee, and well as an active member of various NAACP board sub-committees.

She is considered an active and dynamic leader whose dedication to human rights and equality is exemplified by her role in linking business, government, and social causes. “Accepting this lifetime achievement award, I accept it for every black and brown child in America,” Dukes said. “Now that I can see men and women of color, being in the legislature making rules, working here in Nassau County has paid off”

Dukes, 90, was born in Montgomery, Alabama. She enrolled at Alabama State Teachers College in 1949 and moved to New York City where she started school at Nassau Community College and majored in business administration. Throughout her career, Dukes’ worked with many government agencies concerned with helping low-income families.

Mayor Waylyn Hobbs presented the lifetime achievement award to Dukes. “The incorporated village of Hempstead recognizes you for your lifetime of service fighting for justice and equality,” Hobbs said to Dukes. “You are a trailblazer and we thank you for many years of dedicated service to the cause of humanity.”

She encouraged younger people to strive to make difference in society. “I stand for the lifetime of service that I’ve given to children,” Dukes said. “As long as breaths stay in my body. I will be your advocate. Don’t let anybody tell you to have what you can achieve”

Dukes describe some of the proudest moments of her career as an activist, as seeing the paths of the young people that have been a part of the NAACP. “I’ve seen the fruits of my work and the seeds that were planted,” Dukes said.

Dukes’ said she is working with Barbara Powell, who serves as the President of the Hempstead Branch of the NAACP and Director of the Empire State After-School Program for the Hempstead Public School district. Dukes’ message was for communities to empower younger generations and advocated for schools to supply kids with adequate resources to be successful. “They can achieve anything if they get the resources and they get teachers who are prepared and qualified to teach in the school district,” she said. “When you get resources, they shouldn’t be distributed equally and not because of where kids live or who their parents are.”

Duke’s career work included combating housing discrimination in Nassau County and while accepting her award; Dukes said that there is still work left to do to create positive societal change. “We’re not there yet and that’s why I can’t stop,” she said. “I’m not trying to change people’s hearts. But I’m trying to make people abide by the law of the land.”

Among the issues that Dukes addressed was civic involvement, which challenged everyone to head to the polls when the time comes to make a significant impact. “If you are over 18, you are to run to that ballot box anytime they have an election,” said Dukes. People need to understand that we can march and we can protest and I’ve done all of that, but we need people sitting at the table making policies and laws that affect the lives of all people equally. That’s why I keep encouraging people to participate. Whatever party you want to belong to doesn’t matter but you must vote.”