Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, center, top, honors African Americans who have made a difference in his community. Assemblyman Francisco Moya, above left, joins Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, state Sen. Jose Peralta, former city Comptroller Bill Thompson and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Lynda McDougald to celebrate black history month.
Western Queens celebrated Black History Month with performances, awards and food during a ceremony at Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House on Monday.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) honored NY1 reporter Ruschell Boone, educator Sharon Cadiz, Astoria and Long Island City NAACP branch president Marion Jeffries, PS 11 Jacob Blackwell principal Randy Seabrook, veteran and volunteer John Smith, East River Development Alliance president and religious leader Bishop Mitchell Taylor, president of the Samaritan Woodside Senior Center Yeteva Rich-Virgil and arts advocate Aaron Franklin.
All awardees were happy to be presented with proclamations for their hard work.
Seabrook said she was inspired to become an educator by Mary McLeod Bethune, a black woman who started a school in the south for African Americans at a time when it was rare for black women to hold positions of prominence. Seabrook said it was her dream to do something that Mcleod would be proud of, “and I knew black people were fantastic, because my mother told me so,” she said.
Starting out as a teacher, Seabrook worked her way up to principal and now impacts the lives of hundreds of students at PS 111 in Long Island City.
Officer Darryl Johnson of Police Service Area 9 said Black History Month was meaningful because “it’s always important to remember where you came from. Not just for African Americans but for every single race.” Johnson added that it was nice to recognize people who go above and beyond the call of duty.
Queensbridge resident advocate Ray Normandeau said he too enjoyed the black history celebration. “Since half of my relatives are black, I am happy to be here,” he said. “I am still waiting for 40 acres and a mule,” he added, regarding restitution for slavery.
In between presenting plaques to honorees, Van Bramer and Taylor joined the Senior Shakers in performing an impromptu African dance as Van Bramer’s mother watched from the audience.
The councilman invited Be The Match, a bone marrow donation organization to take swabs from willing audience members, to assits African Americans in need of transplants. It was his hope that someone could help 9-year-old Lloyd Jones, who is the first child to be diagnosed with hypereosinophilic syndrome.
It is often hard for patients of African-American or Hispanic descent like Lloyd to find bone marrow donors, Van Bramer said.
At a similar ceremony at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona on Feb. 24, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) joined Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and Councilwoman Julissa Fererras (D-East Elmhurst) to honor Bill Thompson, chairman of the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Lynda McDougald, president of the East Elmhurst Corona Civic Association.