Black Women Make History, Unite Hundreds in Elmont & Valley Stream for #BlackLivesMatter Protest

Black Women Make History, Unite Hundreds in Elmont & Valley Stream for #BlackLivesMatter Protest

Written by Karl A. Valere

Two Black women, Goldie Harrison (an Elmont alumna and creative entrepreneur) and Christine Rivera (a Valley Stream alumna and criminal defense attorney) co-organized a historic and peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protest on June 1, 2020.

Christine Rivera (@cocochrissie), addresses a crowd of hundreds before a historic march in Elmont and Valley Stream. Photo by Andrew Foster.

Hundreds of Elmont and Valley Stream residents gathered together and marched in unity and solidarity for the full humanity and dignity of Black lives and against Anti-Black terror, violence, and systemic racism in America.

At one point, Harrison asked the crowd, “For how many of you is this your first protest?” and nearly everyone raised their hands.

Goldie Harrison (@goldieharris) galvanizes the crowd of hundreds along the protest route on Dutch Broadway in Elmont. Photo by Andrew Foster

Protests have erupted across America following the May 25th torture and killing of George Floyd — a 46-year-old Black father, brother, and friend — by four Minneapolis Police officers entrusted with his safety. Mr. Floyd’s death — eventually ruled a homicide after an independent post-mortem autopsy — was incidentally live-streamed by an eyewitness and quickly went viral sparking justifiable widespread outrage.

Both the video footage and the facts of the matter — that these officers had no regard for Mr. Floyd’s life and were not yet charged with his death — triggered waves of vicarious trauma for Black and Indigenous People of Color and highlighted the Anti-Black racism & systemic violence that has claimed countless Black lives, including the painfully tragic yet all too familiar stories of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and a harrowing graveyard of others.

A young woman holds up a sign in reference to Anti-Black Terror, violence, and systemic racism in America. Photo by @KarlJeanB

In the shadow of Elmont Memorial High School, Rivera and Harrison convened a crowd of protesters (read: students, alumni, parents, grandparents, educators and community members) inside of the parking lot across the street from the St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church on Elmont Road.

Here, the organizers made intentional and sacred space for a micro-community, where they strategized for civic engagement, distributed “Know Your Rights” materials, and emphasized the importance of completing the 2020 Census.

An Elmont educator shares information about the 2020 Census and voter engagement. Photo by Andrew Foster.

The march then started down Dutch Broadway, as organizers, Nassau County Police, and a local motorcycle club all flanked the hundreds of protesters, looking to maintain order and peace. Motorists emphatically honked their horns in support — some holding their phones to record the protest — while others raising a closed fist in the air for pro-Black solidarity.

A motorist lowers his car window and raises his fist to signify pro-Black solidarity. Photo by Andrew Foster.

Families, including parents, grandparents, and children lifted signs that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” “Say Her Name,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Justice for George Floyd.” In addition to St. Boniface R.C. Church and Dutch Broadway, the protestors also marched directly past another Elmont community landmark — the Nassau County Police Department’s Fifth Precinct.

The once-downsized precinct, scaled down to a satellite center due to budget cuts until 2015, was now fully manned by uniformed officers wearing beat gear and standing seemingly in defense of the fully restored facility.

Nassau County Police Department brass stand guard outside the 5th Precinct surrounded by #BlackLivesMatter protest signs in the wake of the historic demonstration. Photo by Andrew Foster.

Just moments before, in the Western Beef parking lot, two community members handed out bottles of water to the crowd from inside the trunk of their car, refreshing the marchers in light of the road traveled and in preparation for the journey ahead.

Besides representing their local communities, Harrison and Rivera represent 24:OURS, a creative agency + collective based in New York City that bridges the gap between music, media, and community. 24:OURS  is a platform that gives Black and Brown creatives a chance to be seen and heard through different mediums.

Musicians join together to play revolutionary protest music. Photo by Andrew Foster.

Art and creative expression are now and always have been an integral component of protests, activism, and Black liberation movements. Rivera and Harrison were strategic and intentional about featuring various types of art and expression during the protest.

A saxophonist and acoustic guitar player covered Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

During the closing ceremony, Elmont alumna, Phylisha Mitchell belted out a soul-stirring rendition of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” igniting a mass choir that resounded throughout Valley Stream State Park. A pair of self-identified Christians, one Black and one Indian, led the crowd in an impassioned singing of “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

Protesters gather inside Valley Stream State Park at dusk. Photo by Andrew Foster.

For the remainder of the demonstration, the organizers facilitated a multi-generational and culturally diverse “Open Mic” Session, passing the lone megaphone to virtually anyone who wanted to speak or express themselves, as they were propped up by fellow protesters who affirmed their collective pain and applauded calls for justice and systemic reform.

Organizers instructed protestors to take a knee and observe a moment of silence and erected a candlelight vigil honoring the stolen lives of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, and innumerable others.

A heart-shaped candlelight vigil honors the stolen lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Photo by Andrew Foster.

As of June 8, 2020, all four Minneapolis police officers have been fired and charged. Derek Chauvin’s charges have been increased to 2nd-degree manslaughter, while the remaining three officers are facing charges of aiding and abetting a 2nd-degree murder. Each officer has been afforded due process and will have the opportunity to challenge these alleged crimes with legal representation. Mr. Floyd will never have such a privilege.

A protestor waves the American flag as the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice For George Floyd” appear in black ink. Photo by @KarlJeanB.

What happened in Elmont and Valley Stream on June 1, 2020, is far from an aberration. Young people are rising up across the world, in America, and especially all over Long Island.

Protests have emerged in Long Island towns like Baldwin, Franklin Square, Mineola, and Smithtown. Almost two weeks ago, nearly 6,000 protestors marched in Merrick after an earlier video went viral showing a smaller group of Black protestors being turned away by White residents draped in American flags alongside their children, “Go West! Go back where you came from.”

A crowd of hundreds gathers for a historic #BlackLivesMatter protest from Elmont to Valley Stream. Photo by Andrew Foster.

Organizers and advocates like Harrison and Rivera are strategizing for long-term, meaningful change. Rather than a moment in time made possible by an earth-halting pandemic — young people like these two are mobilizing for a movement — one concerned with building collective and sustainable power, accountability, equity, liberty, and justice for all.

Written by Karl A. Valere

Elmont Grad, Geraldine Arielle Pierre, Drops Gems on Film, Family, Freedom, and “Floetic Fridays”

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love and support one another.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

          Assata Shakur

Continue reading “Elmont Grad, Geraldine Arielle Pierre, Drops Gems on Film, Family, Freedom, and “Floetic Fridays””

Elmont Families, Alumni, and Volunteers Celebrate the 2nd Annual Elmont Family Fun Day

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The Elmont Excelsior Inc. was proud to join the 2nd Annual Elmont Family Fun Day community festival on Saturday, September 9th, 2017 at Elmont Memorial High School with more than 300 guests in attendance!

Organized entirely by Elmont residents and volunteers, the free community event featured live musical performances by Layla’s Dance & Drum, Who Is Ariel, All My Friends Are Stars/Naiika Sings, Phylisha Mitchell, Kyron Dupont, and Written Melody.  Hosted by Elmont alumna, Tamar Paoli, with live music by DJ Show N Tell.

Families, alumni, civic groups, students, faculty, and elected officials all came out in droves to support and enjoy this “intergenerational” event. Guests were treated to free food, raffle prizes & giveaways, a mobile game truck, double dutch stations, and many more community resources!

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2nd Annual Elmont Family Fun Day community festival flyer. (Designed by Stacey’s Grafix Studio)

Family Fun Day 2017
Designed by The Elmont Excelsior Inc.

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Designed by The Elmont Excelsior Inc.

All told, the 2nd Annual Elmont Family Fun Day community festival was bigger & better than our first one, and we look forward to growing even more by next year. See you in 2018!




Photos courtesy of Elmont and Parkhurst’s very own JC Lee.

How White Teachers (And MANY Other Factors) Helped Me Achieve Success

Written by Sophia Sunshine Vilceus

Re: “How Are These White Teachers At A Long Island School Helping Black Kids Achieve Above- Average Graduation Rates?” (New York School Talk)

I, like many of my friends who graduated from Elmont, cringed when I initially read this suggestive title.  Sent by my sister-friend who is a New York City educator and attended Elmont, I hesitantly opened up the link from her text with much reservation. When I was done reading the article, however, I felt unsettled — unsettled because there was a concoction of truth melded with some dangerous and problematic notions and ideologies.

I agree with many of the sentiments of the article.

I certainly agree that Elmont Memorial High School is an amazing educational institution, that produces brilliant scholars and gives the space to students to absolutely flourish.

I agree that the majority of Elmont Memorial students are black and brown, and are taught by caring, compassionate, competent, Caucasian educators.

But to suggest that part of the ascendancy of Elmont students is because our white, educators held us to the same standards as they would for other demographics is problematic. What does that even mean anyway? We must be meticulous about how we frame these narratives.

Yes, I adore and appreciate my Elmont educators, many of whom are white. Many of them shaped the trajectory of my career as an Educator.  

In my years at Elmont, I may have been taught by two educators, in total, who looked like me. Being taught by them did something essential for me that goes beyond a textbook or a Regents exam. It wasn’t until I got to college at the CUNY City College of New York and minored in Black Studies, that most of my educators were Black and Brown. They opened my eyes to truths about myself and society that many of my Elmont teachers simply could not do for a multitude of reasons — one being their race.

Yes, Elmont has some of the greatest educators on the Island. But that does not mean that every single white teacher was here for us or wholeheartedly believed in us — let’s get real. That, too, taught us an invaluable lesson: for every few highly competent people in any given field, there will be some who are not and who have made it through the cracks.

As black and brown students and people, we still have to make it anyhow. We learned to excel whether or not every single teacher taught us to the best of their ability. Let’s not even mention the different quality of education that was often granted to “Advance Placement Students” and “Regular” students, which is a whole divergent conversation.

Granted, the demographics of the educators at Elmont may have changed since I graduated a decade ago, but I believe it is beneficial and essential for young students to see people in authority and education that can identify with them and connect with them on various levels. We need to see ourselves in the people that hold the positions that we are striving for. (Other than “sports, entertainment, and the like.”)

We did not have mediocre black teachers at Elmont. We had one black teacher at Elmont. (I’m exaggerating here, I’m sure we had maybe two.)

And that one black teacher (who we all know and love), well, she was/is amazing, not only because she is a gifted educator but because she celebrated her blackness and ours too.

She let us know that she saw us in herself and vice versa. She let us know that she saw us. She was adored by us. We didn’t deny seeing color. The point is, to state that a competent white teacher is more valuable than a mediocre black teacher is correct, but irrelevant in the case of Elmont because we had such limited colored professionals. And like many other arenas in life, these black teachers had to, arguably, work doubly as hard to be taken seriously both by their colleagues and the students (who were not used to seeing colored teachers).

As an educator myself, I certainly know the influence that we have in a child’s life, based on what we do in our classrooms.

At the crux of the successes of Elmont students are determined, over-worked, inspirational immigrant parents who forged a way for us.

They afforded us a quality education that they did not always necessarily receive themselves.  We cannot overlook the role that good parenting and a stable family home contributes to developing a well rounded, wholesome, educated, young colored person.

I am indebted to all of my educators at Elmont. But my success wasn’t founded on solely being educated by “white saviors.”  My family, my faith, my adversity, my community, and my will to be the best version of myself are all significant factors that contributed to and ensured my success.

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Sophia Vilceus graduated from Elmont Memorial High School as her Class President in 2007. She went on to The CUNY City College of New York to pursue her undergraduate studies, then to Howard University for an advanced degree. Sophia is currently based out of Maryland where she is an Adjunct Professor of English at the University of Maryland, Montgomery College, and Prince Georges Community College. She has been published in Heart & Soul Magazine and The Praying Woman. Sophia says her greatest life’s work so far is her new book, The Last Pew: Journeying Back to God’s Will After an Affair, available for purchase now at Amazon.com.

Written by Sophia Sunshine Vilceus


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