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From left: ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross, Duke University professor Kim Manturuk, John Hopkins University professor Nathan Connolly, SBU professor Christopher Sellers. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

While de facto segregation among Long Island’s school districts and housing has been entrenched for decades, there is a growing academic movement to bring people closer together.

As part of the forum, “Housing and Racio-economic Equality” Elaine Gross, president of the Syosset-based advocacy group ERASE Racism, which co-sponsored the event, along with professors from Duke and Johns Hopkins Universitys discussed the history of racism and segregation in the U.S. and how it has affected public housing and education. Gross argued that there is racial segregation and inequality crisis in housing and public education on Long Island. 

“There are folks that think that things are fine how they are,” she said. 

At the forum hosted at the Hilton Garden Inn at Stony Brook Univesrity, Gross argued that there is severe government fragmentation on Long Island, which in turn makes it easier for racial discrimination in housing and public education. 

“Segregation is profitable, and it didn’t end — it is still ongoing.”

— Nathan Connolly

Nathan Connolly, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, said we have to rethink what we know about segregation. 

“We are under the impression that segregation ended due to a combination of moral arguments, like [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s] I Have a Dream Speech, and that segregation was too expensive to maintain,” he said. “Segregation is profitable, and it didn’t end — it is still ongoing.”

Connolly added due to many Jim Crow era policies, white supremacy has been baked into our political and governing structure.  

“In the 1920s people began to institutionalize groups like the Ku Klux Klan,” Connolly said. “They had chapters in cities like Detroit, Chicago and Washington, D.C.— it was a dominant force of political organization.” 

In many ways, the experts argued Long Island, in terms of its development of housing, is the perfect picture of what structural racism looks like. 

Gross stated some towns and school districts on Long Island are more segregated than others, showing areas like Levittown, whose black population has only risen 1.2 percent since 1947. At an ERASE Racism forum in December, Gross provided data from New York State Department of Education that shows a school district like Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in a district like Brentwood close to 80 percent of students are Latino while 12 percent are black. 

The panelists argued this racial steering of populations dates back to the time of the Great Depression.

“[There was] a notion that anything that allowed unregulated movement of people would lead to economic instability,” Connolly said. “You had to generate a way to keep everyone in place, while at the same time ensuring broad economic growth.” 

One way this was done was through redlining, or the denial of services to different races through raising the prices on services, or in this case, homes.

Connolly said by removing these people’s options in moving around or getting a loan with a low interest rate it meant they couldn’t own homes and couldn’t accumulate equity, which in turn generated a racial wealth gap.  

Gross mentioned examples of this racial steering on Long Island. Three years ago in Commack, African American renters asked about vacancies at an apartment complex. They were told there were none. When white individuals asked, they were shown the vacancy, given applications and were encouraged to apply.  

ERASE Racism, along with the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center, took property owners Empire Management America Corp. to court, arguing it had violated the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Suffolk County Human Rights Law. The duo reached a successful settlement of $230,000 and required changes to the rental operations at the apartment complex. 

Kim Manturuk, associate director of research, evaluation, and development at Duke University provided possible solutions to segregation on Long Island. 

“Adapt a metropolitan approach, that has these cross district governing bodies that try to simplify, organize together things like education, infrastructure development among other things,” she said. 

Though she cautioned that even when you have these procedures in place, it’s no guarantee that you get the desired results, and they need to find ways to make desegregation profitable. 

“We need educators that buy into this change.”

— Elaine Gross

She mentioned in her own community of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they have something called the Penny for Housing Fund. 

“One penny of every property tax dollar collected in the entire county goes into a housing fund. We use that money to incentivize developers to build housing that has an affordable housing component that cuts races and ethnic lines,” she said. 

If developers want to build a housing complex in the North Carolina county, they would have to set aside 10 percent of the apartment to families that are making 80 percent below the median income in the area. 

Gross said the change needs to begin on the local level. She stressed the importance of building diverse communities. 

“We need educators that buy into this change,” she said. “Also students — educating them about our history, one that is not heard about in schools.”

Gross said it will take a collaborative effort to show that something like this can work.  

“People don’t believe — it is hard to dispel myths to them in the face of facts,” she said. “Unless they can see it and see the students and the community thriving, they won’t buy into it.”

File photo

The issue of drug abuse will be brought to the forefront in a few weeks, as the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees dedicates its next meeting to a community discussion on the topic.

That meeting on Dec. 7 is being moved to Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, where school, village and police officials will meet for a forum called The Ugly Truth.

“Although we have all read and heard the headlines about heroin in our neighborhoods and the dangers of easy access to powerful prescription medication, we rarely hear The Ugly Truth behind these headlines,” according to a flyer advertising the joint event.

Suffolk County Police Department officials, including the chief medical examiner and a school resource officer, will tell parents the signs of heroin and prescription drug abuse among teenagers and what can be done about it.

The village trustees will hold their work session meeting at 6 p.m. that day at the high school on Old Post Road, then attend the forum at 7 p.m. in lieu of holding a public comment period at Village Hall as usual. The public comment period will instead be held at the board’s following meeting, on Dec. 21.

Drug addiction and abuse is a topic that hits home in all Long Island communities, but it has been a particular point of friction in Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station because of a visible homeless population and the presence of various community services catering to that group, such as a soup kitchen network and a homeless shelter.

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Kim Revere of Kings Park In the kNOw speaks at the drug forum. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

A grassroots advocacy group from Kings Park continued its quest to keep kids away from drugs last week with an informative forum flanked by a star-studded list of guest speakers.

Students attending William T. Rogers Middle School in Kings Park joined their parents at the school gym Wednesday night, March 4, in welcoming the speakers who assembled for the annual preventing destructive decisions forum.

Hosted by Kings Park In the kNOw (KPITK), a grassroots drug outreach and prevention organization, the forum served as an opportunity for parents and their children to become better educated on the perils of alcohol and drug addiction.

Opening the event, a member of the school faculty addressed parents and students who sat opposite a large stage and offered words of encouragement for the young members of the audience.

“Hopefully we can impress upon you tonight how much we love you and how much your families love you and the importance of the actions that you take at this level while you’re here with us at the middle school,” said the one faculty member, before introducing the night’s speakers.

The first speaker at the podium was Kim Revere, a volunteer for KPITK since 2007 and a mother of four. She described getting involved with the organization because of the growing drug problem gripping our communities and the difficulties she faced at home with her 27-year-old son, who at the time was struggling with heroin addiction.

“What Kings Park In the kNOw does is we try to bring educational programs into the schools and into the community to keep parents educated and educate kids as to what the trends are and try to have kids make positive decisions in their lives,” Revere said. “This town is growing and kids are dying. My son has been to rehab nine times; he is finally on the right track. He’s 27 years old and I will not trust him until the day I die. No matter how good he does. I don’t want another parent to live with that pain,” she added.

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was also in attendance and drew from his 25-year background in law enforcement to discuss the lasting impact that narcotics have on local communities.

“I used to say you put the police radio on the counter and when it went off 90 percent of those calls coming out of there are drug or alcohol related,” Trotta said. “Whether it be domestic abuse, a car accident, a robbery or a theft, people break into houses to get stuff to sell to get drugs. They’re not going to be paying their mortgage with it.”

Trotta also delivered an overview of Suffolk County’s Social Host Law and New York State’s 911 Good Samaritan Law passed in 2011, which according to the legislator is a “great law” that states that if you are in a situation involving illicit substances and someone with you is in immediate danger that you should “call 911, and you will not be arrested” through implication.

Rounding out the forum were presentations from Thomas’ Hope founder and drug prevention advocate Linda Ventura, and Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding and Growth Services.

Ventura lost her son Thomas to drug addiction in March 2012, when he died from a heroin overdose. Since then she’s been making routine trips to Albany to push for change in the area of addiction treatment services and to better define how we should combat drug use in New York State. On the one-year anniversary of her son’s death, she launched Thomas’ Hope, a nonprofit foundation that promotes drug awareness, prevention and advocacy.

As executive director of HUGS, Laube recognizes the risks that are present for young people and that the unfortunate circumstances that shook Ventura’s household with the loss of her son are becoming increasingly common as drug use grows in popularity throughout Long Island and across the country.

Through the HUGS program she actively seeks to promote social growth among children and adolescents through leadership programs and retreats and allow them to bond and have fun in the absence of drugs and alcohol.

“All of our activities are meant to have kids feel like they are a part of something and a part of something bigger,” Laube said. “So, that we become just as fun of an activity as maybe some of the other high risk choices that are out there.”

Taking time to address the night’s event, Laube reminded parents and students that while beneficial, the real challenge presented to prevention experts and lecturers who engage with an audience is the impact of their messaging over the long term. In order for lasting change to occur, a large community effort is important and necessary, according to Laube.

“We know that unless we begin to have consistent messaging all throughout, that it’s just one night of information,” said Laube. “So what we encourage communities to do is to really begin to bring about that community-level change and to have events regularly and often, and have parenting sessions and get better programs in schools for kids so it moves beyond just this one-shot event.”