By Rebecca Henely
In celebration of Black History Month, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) bestowed honors upon three black New Yorkers for what they have done for the city, Queens and East Elmhurst.
More than 130 people crowded into the meeting room of the Langston Hughes Library, at 100-01 Northern Blvd. in Corona, last Thursday as Peralta presented former city Comptroller Bill Thompson with a Special Recognition Award, Borough President Helen Marshall with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Lynda McDougald, president of the East Elmhurst and Corona Civic Association, with the Community Activist Award.
Peralta said he plans to make this Black History celebration an annual one. As the first Dominican American elected to the Senate, Peralta pointed out that African Americans and the civil rights movement paved the way for Latinos.
“I’m very grateful for what they’ve done,” Peralta said.
The honorees spoke on the lessons of black history, particularly the discrimination they experienced growing up decades ago in New York City, and linked the struggles of old to the struggles of today. As the keynote speaker at the event, Thompson encouraged those in the audience to talk to their children about black history and said he learned a lot about black history from listening to what his father remembered.
“Over the years, the things that I’ve heard from him give me a greater appreciation of where I’m at,” Thompson said.
Peralta also said he believed Thompson would win the 2013 race as the city’s next mayor.
Marshall spoke of her experience growing up as the child of Guyanese immigrants with a Southern stepmother and of her work as the first director of the Langston Hughes Library. She said every award she receives is special to her.
“I love what I do and just doing it is an award for me,” she said.
McDougald, whose career in civic activism began when she went with her mother to a sit-in at age 13, said she wanted the young people of today to find civic engagement.
“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything,” McDougald said.
Many of the elected officials who came to the event thanked those honored and other black Americans for their accomplishments and what the civil rights movement had done for their own minority groups. City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) commended President Barack Obama and East Elmhurst-born U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder for their recent conclusion that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who is black and Latina, also praised those were honored.
“I want to thank you not only for the doors that you opened but that you held open so we could walk through,” Ferreras said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.