By Lisa Scott
Tucked away on the Ammerman Campus of Suffolk County Community College is a remarkable entity most residents are unaware of: The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding, home of New York metropolitan region’s largest collection of Holocaust artifacts.
In a three-room museum, over one hundred original objects are displayed and viewed by hundreds of students every year since its inception in 2003. The collection of photographs, documents, uniforms, and historic newspapers tell the story of the Holocaust, beginning with Hitler’s rise to power and ending with the horrific images captured by liberators at the end of the war. The collection is both impressive and moving. The Center also maintains two smaller collections of artifacts- one dedicated to documenting the transatlantic slave trade and another dedicated to the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson.
In support of their mission to educate the community on historical events, and to promote cultural understanding and respect for human dignity, the Center hosts academic programs for students at the College and the public. In the last academic year, programs were dedicated to a wide range of topics; one focused on human rights abuses exposed during the World Cup, another on the story of an enslaved woman on Long Island during the American Revolution. Ultimately, all of the work is anchored in the lessons of the Holocaust and the need to acknowledge all lives as valuable.
This approach is also taken in the support the Center provides students at the College. Center staff is integral in the work of several task forces focused on the needs of students from marginalized communities. These include LGBTQ+, undocumented, and those facing basic needs insecurities. The Center serves as a landing place for these students often connecting them with the resources and assistance they need.
The latest endeavor of the Center is By Design: The History of Oppression on Long Island, a documentary series focused on the untold stories of the region’s past and how they impact residents today. Episodes highlight stories such as the influence of the KKK in the development of Suffolk County’s landscape, the Nazi camp in Yaphank during the 1930s, and the existence of migrant labor camps on the East End among many others. The project is a collaboration of the Center and the Radio and Television Production Program at the College. Suffolk County Community College students help produce each of the episodes which are being shared with college faculty and the broader community in order to stimulate dialogue and create meaningful change in our communities.
The Center aims to achieve those same goals with high school students. Annually, the Center hosts Unity Day, a gathering of several hundred students who come together for a day focused on empowerment and leadership. Students hear a keynote speaker, work together in breakout sessions, and meet with community organizations who can offer them valuable resources. This October, Unity Day will feature Kane Smego, an international spoken word poet and artist, who will energize and inspire students from schools across the island. In addition to Unity Day, middle school and high school students visit the center for field trips that include a presentation from a Holocaust survivor, guided tour of the collection, and workshops.
The work of the Center is timely and necessary. In a world where division and extremism are growing exponentially, there is a need for organizations like this to foster greater inclusivity among residents of Suffolk County. We encourage seniors, parents, students and elected officials to visit the Center at the Huntington Library, Suffolk County Community College, 533 College Road, Selden. Slowly read and observe, engage with staff and let the collection move you to a deeper grasp of the evils in our shared past. Visit the Center’s website at https://www.sunysuffolk.edu/experience-student-life/csjhu/ and learn how the Center promotes themes of coexistence, tolerance, and respect for differences.
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https//my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.