Tags Posts tagged with "Black History Month"

Black History Month

Hon. A. Gail Prudenti

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief,

Continuing the kickoff for Women’s History Month in March, we have welcomed the Honorable A. Gail Prudenti, formerly the Chief Administrator of the Courts in New York State, to our podcast this week. And we are marking the passing of Black History Month, held annually every February, with a tribute to “the father of Black history,” the late Carter G. Woodson.

Prudenti distinguished herself early by graduating with honors from Marymount College in Tarrytown, then going on to law school at the University of Aberdeen School of Law.

Her career in Suffolk  County began when she clerked for Surrogate Judge Ernest Signorelli, then worked for the Suffolk district attorney for two years. After a ten-year stint in private practice, Prudenti became special counsel for the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, then ran for public office. Elected in 1991 to the New York Supreme Court while still in her 30s, she served there for four years.

Prudenti then became the Suffolk surrogate judge, the first female elected to this position. Concurrently she was acting New York Supreme Court justice. Then, in 1999, she was appointed as the Tenth Judicial District, Suffolk County administrative judge, the first New York surrogate to serve as a district administrative judge.

After serving on the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, she was named presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, again the first woman in the position. She then became the designate judge on the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, and went on as the Chief Administrator of the Courts. She was in that position for four years.

Even for those of us who aren’t familiar with the various names and levels of the courts in our state, her rise through the system was clearly meteoric. Prudenti then went on to the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra in 2015, where she ultimately served as their 10th dean, and will step down as she joins Nancy Burner, our previous podcast guest, to form the Burner and Prudenti Law Group.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, 1875-1950, American author, historian and journalist, the son of former slaves, was the second Black man to earn a PhD at Harvard University, following W.E.B. Du Bois. He was the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and was one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora. He strove to place people of African descent at the center of American history and the human experience. He noted that African-American contributions “were overlooked, ignored and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them. Race prejudice is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

Also a founder of the “Journal of Negro History,” in February 1926, he launched the celebration of “Negro History Week,” the precursor of Black History Month. His goal was to emphasize the “Negro in History, not the History of the Negro”. Since 1976, every President has designated February as Black History Month. Woodson’s remarkable life is worth knowing.

We hope you will tune in to our podcast this week, starting Friday afternoon, hearing a summary of the week’s news and commentary from Gail Prudenti, by going to our website, tbrnewsmedia.com, and clicking on the home page button, “Listen Now,” or catching us on Spotify. 

Happy March!

P.S. Bio information above supplied by the internet.

Michael J. Winfield Sr. Photo from Marquis Who’s Who
By Aidan Johnson

Being a teacher can mean more than just helping kids learn arithmetic and reading. Teachers have the power to leave a lasting impression on the lives of their students. Such is the case with Michael J. Winfield Sr.

Winfield, who has been an educator for over 25 years, with teaching and administrative posts at Shoreham-Wading River, Riverhead and South Country school districts, among others across Long Island, currently serves as a sociology instructor at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip.

Though an accomplished educator and administrator, he did not originally intend to go into that field.

“I kind of backed into it,” Winfield said in an interview. “I was transitioning from my business … and I went back to school, and I was going to stay in security.”

While Winfield was working in the security sector, he wanted to get his master’s in sociology. However, after a deal for the security company to pay for his master’s did not pan out, he left and began working as a substitute teacher.

Although substitute teaching was supposed to be only temporary, he found himself enjoying the work.

Teaching was “something that I just kind of warmed up to,” Winfield said. “Before you know it, I was in my master’s program, and I was taking additional courses to get my teacher’s certificate.”

As an educator, Winfield knew it wasn’t just his job to know what to teach kids; he also needed to understand how to teach them. He described how if his students needed help understanding a particular subject or concept, he wouldn’t automatically fault them. Instead, he would ask himself what he could do better to help register with them.

“I think the students appreciated that because they needed those opportunities, those extra looks at things,” Winfield said. “I always learn from them how I can be a better teacher [and a] better person.”

While students may forget their teachers are still humans, they can still make mistakes. Winfield never felt afraid to admit or apologize to his students if he was having a lousy day.

But Winfield’s efforts continue beyond the classroom. While at Spring Valley High School, his supervisor tasked him with creating a Black History Month program that also included all members of the community.

To achieve this, Winfield focused the celebration on community member Edmund Gordon, a well-known psychologist and mentee of W.E.B Du Bois (an American sociologist, socialist, historian and Pan-American civil rights activist), and created a community service award for him and his wife, Susan Gordan.

Winfield also partnered with community-based organizations to bring his diverse community full of different ethnic backgrounds together during a single event.

“We just had so many different people that all came and participated, and really that’s the goal: to share the history with everyone,” he said.

While these types of celebrations can help expand a community’s knowledge of Black history in America, Winfield still feels that the U.S. slipped in instructing what Black people have contributed to American history. 

“There are some periods of history, as you must be aware, that were not so good,” he said. “But we have to learn from them. We can’t hide them.”

“I think there are some people in the educational world that feel as though these things are divisive, and they’re not divisive,” he added. “They help us learn from it, and they help us grow because history is instructive.”

Winfield’s dedication to his career shows in his continued advocacy work. He still has students reach out to him and give him updates on their lives.

“I had a couple of students this year that sent me cards, and in one card, the student said that she thanked me for creating a safe space to learn,” he said.

Winfield, who has authored “Mentoring Matters: A Practical Approach to Fostering Reflective Practices,” a book that advises teachers in their formative years, among other books, has successfully left his mark on the community around him. For that, he is invaluable.

Michael J. Winfield Sr. is also listed in “Marquis Who’s Who.”

Artist Hulbert Waldroup with his painting, The Life and Legend of Pyrrhus Concer, at the Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor

By Tara Mae

Serving in one of the 19th century’s most profitable and perilous industries, Black mariners risked their lives, livelihoods, and liberty in the pursuit of a meager but available wage. The Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor’s new two year special exhibition, From Sea to Shining Sea: Whalers of the African Diaspora, examines the too-frequently ignored Black heritage and contributions to the whaling industry.  

Guest curated by Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director of Eastville Community Historical Society in Southampton, the exhibit opened on Feb. 15 and will run through 2024.

“This exhibit is focused on expanding and expounding on stories of Black mariners in maritime history and sharing the untold/under-told stories of whalers of African descent and whalers of color in our whaling history,” said Gina Van Bell, Assistant Director of the Whaling Museum.

From Sea to Shining Sea exhibit at the Whaling Museum

The exhibit casts the African American whalers for what they were: main characters in their own lives, who took up whaling as a means of survival and, in many cases, transformed it into a stepping stone for other successes.

“We want people to understand the vastness of their lives, which is sometimes missed,” Dr. Grier-Key said. “We really wanted to focus on that, just going a little bit deeper and not stopping at the surface of BIPOC whalers and their lives, probing what they were able to do and what it meant in the context of the times. We want to offer more of a world view, a holistic look at whalers and their lives.”

Like a ship’s crew comprised of many individual roles, this exhibit consists of items from the museum’s own archives as well as items on loan from 10 different historical organizations. It honors the artistic pull the sea has had on creators throughout the centuries by incorporating art inspired by the water and maritime culture.

Awash with primary source documents, artifacts, and artwork, the interactive display explores what life was like at sea and ashore for non-white mariners while contextualizing the greater experience of people of color who in lived in coastal areas during the 1800s. 

The story of one such Black man, Pyrrhus Concer, inspired local artist and Southampton gallery owner Hulbert Waldroup, whose oil on canvas painting The Life and Legend of Pyrrhus Concer (2022), is included in the show. This circular painting, reminiscent of the shape of a porthole, depicts in vibrant colors the nautical scope of Concer’s life, framed in repurposed boat wood rescued from a salvage yard. 

A formerly enslaved Southampton man of African descent, Concer became a sailor after he was freed in 1832 (slavery in New York formerly ended in 1827.) He sailed aboard the whaling ship Manhattan, the first American ship to visit Tokyo, Japan, where he was greeted with wonder, being the first Black man many of the Japanese had ever seen.

“It was painted purely out of love and respect for Concer,” Waldroup said. Drawn to the stories of Black cowboys and whalers, who have traditionally been erased from popular lore, Waldroup was intrigued by Concer, whose career as a whaler enabled him to establish himself as a businessman and philanthropist on the shore. 

Whaling and other maritime endeavors were often precursors for the precarious promise of more stable lives away from the water, but such pursuits were fraught. 

Part of the Sea to Shining Sea: Whalers of the African Diaspora exhibit at the Museum.

“The first Black Americans who were treated as ‘citizens,’ in a way, were sailors. During the nineteenth century, working as a merchant seaman or whaler was one of the few occupations which offered free Black people a relative level of independence and self-sufficiency, along with the opportunity to travel the world with a Seaman’s Protection Certificate,” said Executive Director of the Whaling Museum Nomi Dayan.

From circa 1796-1940, American mariners carried this document as proof as citizenship. It was particularly vital to Black sailors, as they were not defined as citizens under the law until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868. 

African Americans took very big risks for mitigated reward when they sailed with whaling ships. When docking in harbors of the South, for example, they were subject to being jailed or captured and sold into slavery. 

From Sea to Shining Sea features receipts for the imprisonment and release of Alfred Gall, an African American crew member on the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company’s Tuscarora, whose captain had to bail him out of jail. His crime? Being a free Black man in a Southern port.

Yet despite the marine and manmade dangers, whaling was considered to be a viable, even comparably steady trade. The sea offered a sort of freedom to men who might not find it on land as long as the voyage did not kill them.

“Whaling employed the most diversified workforce among all other occupations at the time. Many whalers of color who endured hard work, poor pay, awful living conditions, and serious danger, chose to work at sea because work options on land were limited,” Dayan said. “African American whalers who faced work discrimination on land were more likely than other racial groups to continue whaling.”

Whaling records indicate that rank prevailed over the color of one’s skin. Recruiters did not record race, just complexion, which was a subjective categorization. Herman Melville, the white author of Moby Dick was even listed as “dark.” 

Light-skinned African American sailors had more opportunity for advancement. And while Black whalers did encounter barriers to advancing their ranks and were relegated to service-based positions, they usually earned the same rate of pay as other men of the same rank.

“On these voyages, your life and your counterpart’s life depended on how well you did you job. So in that way, you were equal in the sense of doing the work … tough, backbreaking work that was dangerous — you could lose your life but could achieve financial success,” Dr. Grier-Key said.  

This made whaling unique to other industries. Whaling could provide a sort of networking opportunity for the African Americans and other people of color. Ancillary jobs associated with the sea were also available to them, such as being caulkers and coopers. Wives of BIPOC whalers might be seamstresses for the captains’ wives. 

Such a utilization of community building is a trait understood by the team behind this exhibit, for whom From Sea to Shining Sea is a labor of love and longevity, part of the Whaling Museum’s ongoing efforts to share the whaling tales generally omitted from the history books.  

Dr. Grier-Key and Dayan served together on the board for the Museum Association of New York, and Dr. Grier-Key knew of Waldroup through her work in the Southampton community. Together with Van Bell, they coordinated an exhibit that the stories of BIPOC whalers are no longer submerged in the murky annals of time.


Black History: Whaleboat Chat

Join the special edition of a Whaleboat Chat highlighting the Whalers of the African Diaspora exhibition on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at noon. Gather around the star of the museum’s collection, the whaleboat, and listen as a staff member shares the tale of the dangerous Nantucket Sleighride and the brave whalers. Free with admission. No reservations necessary.

Black History: Build-A-Boat Workshop

Drop by the Museum any time on Feb. 21 and Feb. 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. to learn about African American whalers who designed, built and worked on whaling ships in the 19th century and then imagine, design and create unique wooden vessel models out of a variety of materials in this open-ended workshop. ​Entry: Admission + $10 participant.

Beyond the Book

Join the Whaling Museum’s new book club! Read Whaling Captains of Color by Skip Finley at home and  go on new adventures through history. Then meet at the museum on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. to dive deeper into the story through connections with the Museum’s collection. Adults only. $15 per participant. Registration required.

The Whaling Museum, 301 Main Street, Cold Spring Harbor is open Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter months, and Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the summer. Admission is $8 for adults; $6 for seniors; $6 for children ages 4-17; free for children three years old and younger; and free for members. For more information, visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org or call 631-367-3418.

Louis Jordan's Typany Five, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. William P. Gottlieb/Wikimedia Commons

Black History Month is celebrated throughout February, and for more than 50 years, has provided an outlet for people to remember and reflect upon African American history.

We see many examples of Black history right here on Long Island. Though not fully understood or preserved, the examples feature most prominently in the field of entertainment.

How many readers are aware of the Red Rooster club on Route 25 between Gordon Heights and Coram with its national Black celebrities and advertising a “complete floor show every night” through the late 1940s? How many can recount the contributions made by the Celebrity Club in Freeport in the 1950s and ‘60s, when R&B and soul reigned supreme? 

Then there was East Setauket’s own Paula Jean’s club, where not only could one enjoy the top national and local blues artists at the turn of the new millennium but also the most authentic Cajun or Creole cuisine this side of New Orleans and south Louisiana.

Never heard of these clubs and their place in the Black hierarchy? That’s all the more reason why measures should be taken by the state, counties, towns and villages to recognize these sites with heritage plaques. These important and historic local institutions should be studied in local history classes from K-12, community colleges and universities.

In years to come, the investment of time and resources will be paid off in the form of enhanced Long Island artistic recognition, increased tourist traffic and greater cross-cultural understanding.

Today, the local club tradition is continued in honor of many top Black jazz legends at Tom Manuel’s The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook in live performances and at its museum which features pioneering stars such as Louis Jordan — arguably the inspiration for rock ‘n’ roll music — and balladeer Arthur Prysock. 

The recently opened Long Island Music Hall of Fame is located on the site of the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheater behind Stony Brook Village Center. It was the place to be for international acts such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong until 1970.

Like The Jazz Loft, LIMHOF is another institution preserving the music history of artists and entertainers of all colors and stripes. Both organizations should be supported and patronized by local residents and tourists alike. But more recognition through plaques and other landmarks should be offered by our municipalities, as is done with music trails in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Months celebrating specific cultures such as Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month and more, are all helpful for reminding us that our country is what it is today thanks to people of all walks of life. Recognizing our accomplishments shouldn’t be confined to just four weeks out of the year.

Let’s think of better ways to share the stories of people from all walks of life, those who accomplished greatly whether in music, politics, the armed forces or other fields. Let us remember and honor their legacy by putting those ideas into practice. Here on Long Island, there is diversity in history from which we can learn so much for our future benefit and enlightenment.

METRO photo

To mark Black History Month, the Jazz Loft in Stony Brook Village will be highlighting wines specifically from Black winemakers and winery owners, for its Acoustic in the Main Room series. The series showcases small duos/trios in the Loft’s main performance room which will be set up to resemble an intimate living room, with spaced out seating. The concerts are conversational, engaging and intimate and a very special window into the heart and mind of the artists and each concert is paired with a special wine to celebrate Black History Month.

“This theme was chosen in an effort to elevate awareness and support the growth of African Americans in the wine industry,” said Director of Education Laura Landor, who selected the wine pairings. “Of the more than 11,000 wineries in the United States, less than 1 percent of them are Black owned or have a Black winemaker. We are excited to introduce these wines to our Jazz Loft patrons during Black History Month and hope to add a selection of them to our regular list of wines that are available by the glass or bottle.”

The Jazz Loft will offer tastings of a red and white selection during each performance with full glasses available for purchase.

“Our Acoustic in the Main Room series is a unique opportunity to hear some of the most talented singers and musicians that perform regularly at the Loft in a relaxed setting, reminiscent of the New York City Loft scene of the 1950’s which inspired the Jazz Loft’s name,” said Jazz Loft founder Tom Manuel. “If you don’t know any Jazz performers personally to invite into your own living room, then this is the next best thing.”

The Acoustic in the Main Room series calendar:

February 9-Featuring Mala Waldron on piano and vocals; with Mike Hall on bass; and Tom Manuel on cornet.

McBride Sisters Sparkling Brut Rose, Hawk’s Bay NZ

McBride Sisters 2020 Chardonnay Central Coast, CA

McBride Sisters 2019 Red Blend Central Coast, CA

 February 10-Houston Person on tenor saxophone; Steve Salerno on guitar and Tom Manuel on cornet.

Brown Estate “Chaos Theory” 2021 Proprietary Red Wine (California)

Brown Estate House of Brown 2021 Chardonnay (California)

February 24- Buddy Merriam on mandolin; Steve Salerno on guitar and Tom Manuel on cornet

Longevity 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Longevity 2019 Chardonnay (California)

 February 25- Grammy-nominated singer Nicole Zuraitis, with Steve Salerno on guitar and Tom Manuel on cornet

LVE Signature Series 2021 Chardonnay (North Coast, California)

LVE 2019 Cabernet (North Coast, California)

All performances are hosted by Tom Manuel and Laura Landor.

Tickets will be limited to just 85 people and start at 7 p.m., and feature two sets with a brief intermission.

Tickets for all performances are $40 and start at 7 p.m. and can be purchased at https://www.thejazzloft.org.

The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue in Stony Brook, is located just 90 minutes from New York City and is the only music venue on Long Island that features exclusively jazz music. For more information, call 631-751-1895.

Jazz Loft founder Tom Manuel puts the finishing touches on the new Louie Armstrong exhibit at the Jazz Loft.

The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue in Stony Brook Village will be marking Black History Month in February with special exhibits in the Loft’s museum celebrating jazz greats Louis Armstrong (Corona), Lloyd Trotman (Huntington), Ernie Royal and Benny Powell (Both who lived in New York City). The Jazz Loft’s museum contains more than 10,000 pieces of jazz memorabiliaand is open Thursdays to Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

“In many ways every month is Black History month at the Jazz Loft,” said Founder and President Tom Manuel. “Jazz is a music and tradition that was born from the Black experience and African roots. This February we will be adding several new exhibits that focus on local jazz greats who had a connection to Long Island and New York.”

“The contributions by Black musicians, singers and composers to the art of Jazz are infinite,” said Manuel. “We are proud to be highlighting some of the leading ladies of song in February with our ‘Here’s to the Ladies’ Young at Heart concert. The artistry and impact of vocalists like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald is everlasting.”

Mala Waldron

On February 9, Mala Waldron, daughter of jazz legend Mal Waldron, will kick off the Loft’s Acoustic in the Living Room series from 7 to 9:30 p.m. This jazz music series showcases small duos/trios in the Loft’s main performance room which will be set up to resemble an intimate living room, with spaced out seating. The concerts are conversational, engaging and intimate and a very special window into the heart and mind of the artists. The concert will feature Mala Waldron on piano and vocals; with Mike Hall on bass; and Tom Manuel on cornet. 

Tickets are $40 per person and can be purchased here: Tickets

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Rocky Point High School students helped create this mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo from Seth Meier

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself — the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us — that’s where it’s at.” — Jesse Owens

After years of training and dedication, American athletes have been competing on the world stage in Beijing, China, through the Winter Olympics in front of a communist regime that is openly competing with the United States — not only in athletics, but for social, economic, political and military prowess — to be the top superpower. 

Eighty-six years ago, during the beginning of German aggression in Europe, Jesse Owens, an African American track-and-field standout athlete competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of fascist powers that were bent on expanding their national power, this Alabama native was a highly regarded runner for the United States. In front of Adolf Hitler, Owen received cheers and along the way he shattered the myth of the Aryan race and the racial superiority of the Nazi regime.

Known as the Buckeye Bullet from his competitive days running at Ohio State, Owens won four gold medals and gained the respect of the global community that was on the brink of World War II. During the games, a fatigued Owens was told with Ralph Metcalfe to replace Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller in the 400-meter relay race.  

At first, Owens was reluctant to run, he was tired, and believed that these men had the ability to win this race for America. While he continued to succeed at these games, he believed in the ability of these runners that had faced anti-Semitism at home and during these games. The American track-and-field athletes won 11 gold medals, six of them were earned by African American athletes.  

Owens confidently represented the character and pride of the United States in front of the Germans, whose government sponsored racism and hatred toward minority groups. But when he arrived home, through the long-standing policy of segregation he was unable to gain the same rights as white citizens until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. 

Rosa Parks

Another native of Alabama that changed the scope of civil rights was Rosa Parks. While she was traveling home by bus in 1955 from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department Store, several Black people were told to leave their seats to make enough room for white riders. Parks refused to stand with the other Blacks, where she defiantly remained seated to oppose the unfairness of segregation. Like other Black citizens who lived in Alabama, she observed the fire department use of hoses to push back civil rights demonstrators, the police using German Shepherd dogs to assault crowds of protesters, and the use of force to physically carry away Blacks who were engaged in sit-ins that were waged at segregated areas such as restaurants, park benches and local businesses.  

By refusing to leave her seat, Parks broke the Jim Crow segregationist laws, was photographed as she was arrested, fingerprinted and sent to jail. Her name has become synonymous for people of all backgrounds to oppose widespread civil rights abuses that have been seen within the United States. 

In 2012, at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, President Barack Obama (D) sat in the original bus seat and reflected on the strength of this little woman who was a giant toward the cause of civil rights.

Thurgood Marshall

In 1908, Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a mother who was a teacher and a father who was a railroad porter. At an early age, his father took him to local courtrooms to observe the legal procedures for the defense and the prosecution of local cases.    

As he grew older, Marshall was concerned about the high death rate of African Americans within the streets of Baltimore and how Blacks were defended in the court of law. He was an outstanding student in high school and attended the African American equivalent to Princeton University at Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania. 

While he was a brilliant student, Marshall enjoyed his social life and saw some trouble through a hazing incident within his fraternity. He realized the necessity of being more dedicated to his studies, as he joined the debate club and began to see law as his future calling. 

During his college years Marshall lived through the tribulations of segregation, where he helped desegregate a local movie theater. Once he graduated, he began his pursuit of attending law school, but he was denied his first choice of University of Maryland Law School.  

Through the unjust racial policies of this prominent school, he was refused admission to attain this degree, since he was Black. As a married student, Marshall graduated as a valedictorian at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and later turned down the chance of attending Harvard University to begin his own law office in East Baltimore. 

This emerging legal icon was interested in gaining positive changes to the civil rights laws that prevented the growth of rights for African Americans. Marshall was known for his devotion to fight against police brutality, unfair practices of landlords, and he also supported labor organizations and businesses. 

Always with an eye toward helping others, he had two key cases that saw him fight for the rights of Blacks against segregation. First, he opposed the unfair “separate but equal” parts of the GI Bill that limited the rights African American veterans that served within every component of the Armed Forces at home and overseas during World War II. 

In 1952, he fought against the government to overturn the segregationist policies that were established within the American educational system. 

After excelling within many government legal positions, in 1967 President Lyndon Johnson (D) nominated Marshall to become the first African American associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a legal pioneer who always looked forward to change, through the positive beliefs that all Americans were able to get ahead in the United States, where they should receive all of the rights of the constitution.

Aretha Franklin

All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)

The legendary lyrics of “Respect” were sung by trailblazer Aretha Franklin in 1967. Born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, her father the Rev. C.L. Franklin was a famous Baptist minister and her mom Barbara was a gospel singer.  

By the time Aretha was 14 years old, she had already recorded her first gospel single, in Detroit. In 1960, she was scouted for Columbia Records by New York’s John Hammond, who also signed Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to professional contracts. But it would take a few years before Franklin hit fame in the late 1960s through her association with Atlantic Records and its music savvy heads, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.  

This was the beginning of her pursuit to consistently earn top 10 hits and gold records. Along the way, as the Queen of Soul, she sold millions of records such as with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Respect,” a No. 1 hit. Her music was adored by people of all races, as her records made it through the tumultuous moments of the 1960s. Franklin’s success was felt during this trying decade that saw major Vietnam anti-war and civil rights protests. After the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, ironically in her birthplace of Memphis, Franklin sang at his service in honor of this noted leader.  

Many fans noticed the soulful feeling of sincerity when listening to the words of Franklin that always struck a chord with people that enjoyed music. Into the early 1970s, she gained big hits with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Spanish Harlem” but at this moment soul music tastes began to change with disco and hip-hop. 

Her popularity never wavered on the national level as she performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton (D) and Obama, and she was given the Presidential Medal of Honor by George W. Bush (R) in 2005.  

The musical grace and strength of Franklin was also recognized in 1987 when she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was honored at the Kennedy Center and was given the National Medal of Arts in 1999. 

Franklin represents the countless examples of African American accomplishments that added to the national character and pride of the United States during all periods of time.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

By Rich Acritelli

In honor of Black History Month, Errol Toulon Jr. (D), of Lake Grove, is the first African American Suffolk County sheriff. Ever since his youth through the lessons that he learned from his father, Toulon has been motivated to achieve his duty and responsibilities.  

As a kid, he asked his father, a longtime correction officer, what he did for a living. His dad replied, “We rehabilitate individuals that are incarcerated, we never throw away the key and we try to help these people safely return back to society.” 

The story of Toulon Jr. began in the Bronx, where he was born in 1962, and he lived in the city until 1990. 

Yankee batboy

Errol Toulon Jr. as a Yankee batboy. Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

A talented baseball player who excelled as a center fielder and a leadoff hitter during his high school and college years, Toulon had the unique chance of being a batboy for the New York Yankees in 1979 through 1980.  

He was in the locker room to observe the impressive leadership skills and character of the late Yankee great catcher Thurman Munson. In the Bronx, Toulon watched Billy Martin manage the baseball stars of Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, and he also met boxing champ Roberto Durán.  

As a young man in the Yankee Clubhouse, Toulon encountered a young boy, and asked him his name. It was Hal Steinbrenner, who now owns the team after his father George. 

The former batboy ended up becoming the first African American sheriff of Suffolk County, and had a wonderful time being welcomed back by senior management of the Yankees. Players like Ron Blomberg and Mickey Rivers were pleased to see their former batboy who has always worked to protect his community. Still to this day, Toulon is an avid baseball fan who glowingly recalls his special time in pinstripes around the “Boys of Summer.”

City correction officer

Errol Toulon Jr., left, with Hal Steinbrenner, general partner of the New York Yankees.
Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

During those earlier years, Toulon took the city correction officer exam, after he completed an associate’s degree in business.  As a 20-year-old, he became one of the youngest recruits within the New York City Department of Correction.  

He observed the older jails that were built from the 1930s through 1960s, were cold, secured with steel, and lacking any of the advancements of the penitentiaries of today. Early in his career, Toulon was impacted by watching inmates hold few liberties and living in poor conditions. 

There were dangerous moments during fights, riots and emergencies, that saw officers isolated and unable to see each other where their own safety was compromised. Over the years, Toulon has learned from these lessons to ensure the constant support of the current officers of his department.

As a lifelong officer, a captain and official, Toulon always follow the examples that were established by his father. Toulon Sr. was employed by the NYC Department of Correction for 36 years in positions ranging from officer to a warden at Rikers Island. 

From his dad, he learned the value of attention to detail and always treating his staff with the utmost amount of respect. Whether it was his junior years as a correction officer or as the present Suffolk County sheriff, Toulon never loses focus on the evolving complexities of operating the county system of imprisonment. Over the past decades, he has been involved in hostage crisis, handling drug abuse, attempted escapes, and seizure of guns and contraband that were smuggled into jails by prisoners.

Suffolk County sheriff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo administers the oath of office to Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. during his inauguration ceremony in 2018. Toulon was joined by his wife Tina. File photo by Kevin Redding

Toulon has always believed in the necessity in analyzing the complexity of criminal justice problems that are always evolving. There was recently a major riot in St. Louis, where the inmates broke windows and set debris on fire. Always understanding the usefulness of information, Toulon’s Sheriff’s Office examines these situations by calling different corrections agencies around the country. They try to determine the root of local or national incidents and utilize these resources to be prepared to sufficiently handle these concerns in Suffolk County.  

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has worked with him through their tenures in office.

“Sheriff Toulon leads a proud department of men and women dedicated to upholding the law and running the Suffolk County Correctional Facility,” she said. 

There is always the major process of investigating prisoner grievances over health care, food, communication with family members, religious services and more. Toulon tries to improve these concerns before they materialize into a major crisis. 

During his career, he has dealt with the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks and the health implications within the jail environment. Through the determination to always contain the strength of these sicknesses, protective measures were already established within the county jails before the first COVID-19 case hit New York in last March.  

Due to the pandemic, new ways had to be developed to handle the services that were needed for the prisoners. Toulon’s office made a goal in always sharing current information on the threats and changes that COVID-19 presented to both the outside world and the jails. The virus prevented family visits, but prisoners were allocated two extra calls a week, pictures of loved ones were printed for inmates, and there were virtual substance and psychological programs. 

Professional and educational experiences

Errol Toulon Jr. with Yankees Mickey Rivers and Ron Bloomberg

Education has always been an important part of Toulon’s life which he has incorporated into his many correctional positions. He has a doctorate in educational administration, an advanced certificate in Homeland Security Management and an MBA.  

Since his election as sheriff, Toulon has spoken to many educational programs with local school districts to address the daily concerns that his department handles, always with a positive demeanor. 

VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point Comdr. Joe Cognitore has always viewed Toulon “as an upstanding and an energetic people person that has always protected our residents, worked well with community leaders, aided veterans that have fallen on criminal times in jail, and he has helped create local 9/11 memorials.”

For two years, Toulon taught at Dowling College as an adjunct faculty member. He planned to instruct students at St. John’s University, but was unable to do so due to his present position.  

Harvard University has invited Toulon to address its student body on his professional and educational experiences. While he enjoys his current position and is hopeful that he will be reelected to another term, Toulon enjoys teaching, and he would like to teach again. A leader with a tremendous amount of energy, there have been some personal battles that he has had to endure as a survivor of pancreatic cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Whereas Toulon is determined to have a secure prison system within the county, provide resources and support for his officers, he also wants to ensure that prisoners do not return. Through the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team, known as the START program, correction officers help inmates find housing, jobs, medical services and food, and to become productive and safe citizens. 

Rosa Parks

Black History Month, which initially started as a weeklong commemoration in the early 20th century, has been a way to remember and celebrate important people and events in African American history officially for more than 50 years. After a tumultuous 2020, with several alleged police brutality cases against people of color across our nation, it’s more important than ever to recognize the contributions of Black Americans.

We’re not just talking about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or former President Barack Obama (D), but also those who the spotlight hasn’t shone on enough or not at all. There are veterans who served in our armed forces, even when their fellow countrymen didn’t accept them as equals. There are entertainers who once were applauded when they were on stage but weren’t able to eat dinner at the same restaurant as those who were delighted by their performances. There are those who made great strides in science and aeronautics, who are barely mentioned in our history books.

The month is a reminder to reach out to our neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances and former classmates and listen to their stories. People just like us who work hard every day to provide a good life for themselves and their loved ones, and who dream of a better tomorrow. Yet, every day many Black Americans face obstacle after obstacle because they find — before they utter a word or make a move — they are being judged by the color of their skin.

Many of us can’t even comprehend being judged based on our bloodline. We heard the stories of our parents, grandparents or other ancestors who were once called derogatory names or turned away from jobs, some not even applying due to signs such as NINA (no Irish need apply) hung on workplace doors. But today, many of us couldn’t imagine this happening to us.

However, it’s happening every day, in our country, in our towns, even in our schools to those who are Black.

This past summer, journalism-style guidebooks used by papers across the country decided when describing Americans of African ancestry to no longer use “black” but “Black.” The call was made because lowercase is a color but uppercase signifies a culture. Capitalizing Black celebrates people who share history and culture just like Germans, Italians, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos and more.

Let’s not let this month pass without learning about our fellow Americans’ cultures and about them as human beings. Months dedicated to certain cultures provide the opportunity to learn more about the history of people outside of our inner circle and everyday lives. It gives us a chance to broaden our horizons and understand that we are all in this thing called life together, only if we realize just how similar and equal we are.

We are inviting readers to share their reflections about this year’s Black History Month in perspective articles. Submissions should be approximately 500 words, and we welcome photos to accompany the piece. Send articles and photos to Rita J. Egan at [email protected].

Fried chicken with collard greens and corn bread

By Barbara Beltrami

February is Black History Month and what better way to celebrate than with traditional, historic recipes for soul food, that wonderful collection of Southern-style dishes that boasts big delicious flavors. Here are some of my favorite must-try Southern foods, from fried chicken and cornbread to collard greens and black eyed peas. I’ve pestered friends for their heirloom recipes, and here they are.

Marjorie Grann’s Fried Chicken

YIELD: Makes 4 servings


One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut up

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for frying


Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towel. Pour buttermilk into shallow dish and dip chicken into it to coat. Pour flour, cayenne, salt and pepper into a resealable plastic bag and shake to combine. Place chicken pieces, one at a time, in bag and shake to coat; remove pieces to platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until coating has a pasty consistency, about two hours. In large skillet heat 2 to 3 inches of oil over medium high heat until very hot and carefully place chicken pieces in oil. Fry, turning once, until both sides are golden; reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes, then raise heat again to medium-high, remove cover and continue to cook until chicken is crispy; drain on paper towels. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with potato salad or candied yams and collard greens.

Eunice McNeal’s Collard Greens

YIELD: Makes 6 servings


1 large onion, chopped

1 smoked ham hock

3 garlic cloves, chopped

7 cups chicken broth

1 pound collard greens, washed and trimmed

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


In a large pot combine onion, ham hock, garlic and chicken broth; cook over medium heat until meat pulls away from bone, about two hours; add collard greens, vinegar, sugar, cayenne and salt and pepper and cook until greens are tender, about two more hours. Drain extra liquid if desired. Serve hot or warm with barbecued ribs and black-eyed peas.

Doralee Petty’s Buttermilk Cornbread

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs


Preheat oven to 425 F; place rack in middle of oven. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with one tablespoon of the butter. In large bowl thoroughly combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In medium bowl vigorously whisk together the buttermilk and eggs; add the remaining 5 tablespoons of melted butter and the flour mixture. Stir only until completely blended; pour batter into prepared pan and bake until top is golden and cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with butter, collard greens, black-eyed peas and fried chicken

Simon Birdsall’s Black-Eyed Peas

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings


1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 ounces pork shoulder, diced into one-inch cubes

4 strips bacon, cut into one-inch pieces

1 large onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

2 bay leaves

Apple cider vinegar to taste


Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering; add pork cubes and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add bacon, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cayenne and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add broth, water and bay leaves, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add peas to pot and simmer until they are soft but not mushy, about one to one and a half hours. Remove bay leaves, adjust seasonings, add vinegar and serve hot or warm with collard greens and fried chicken.