This year's fourth presentation in the Multicultural Speaker Series launched into Black History Month with presentations from three distinguished guest speakers. The event featured Dean Bennett, '81, and current Board member, alongside his sister Tracey Bennett, '77 alumna and former public school history teacher, and Barry Lites, Esq., a local attorney and a good friend of Dean's.
Dean began as he shared insights into his family's legacy at East Woods and his professional journey, which includes earning degrees in business management and human resources from Hofstra University and contributing to minority and women's business development. His presentation, enriched with family and historical photographs of East Woods, captivated the students.
Tracey, recognized as East Woods School's first Black student in 1967 and currently pursuing a doctorate in literacy at Hofstra, discussed her involvement in the Joseph Lloyd Manor Jupiter Hammon Project. This initiative, supported by Preservation Long Island, aims to highlight the life and work of Jupiter Hammon, the first published African American poet who lived in slavery in Long Island. The project seeks to amplify his literary significance and shed light on the history of those enslaved at Joseph Lloyd Manor. He authored profound works addressing slavery and freedom during the country's colonial period.
Barry spoke of his remarkable initiative to establish the Huntington Black History Museum project, focusing on honoring African Americans' profound history, cultural richness, and diverse contributions. The museum aims to highlight the stories of Alice and John Coltrane, Pyrrhus Concer, and Samuel Bolton, to name a few. Alice and John Coltrane are renowned jazz musicians and composers who resided in Dix Hills. In addition to the plans to feature their stories in the museum, an effort is underway to preserve their home. See thecoltranehome.org for more information. Pyrrhus Concer is another significant figure to be featured. Initially enslaved by the Pyrrhus family, he worked as a farmhand until 1832; he later joined the crews of whaling ships operating out of Long Island. He served on the Manhattan, the first American whaling ship to sail to Tokyo in 1845, a voyage that spanned two years. Concer's success didn't stop at sea; he went on to amass wealth as a businessman through wise investments. Samuel Ballton's story is equally inspiring; having escaped slavery, he fought for the Union during the Civil War and later flourished as a farmer in Long Island, earning the title "The Pickle King of Greenlawn" in 1899 when he raised over 1,000,000 pickles in one season. He continued to develop land and build houses locally. The Huntington Black History Museum project, which is currently seeking donations, has already made significant headway with a recent grant of $500,000, underscoring the community's support for preserving and honoring these critical narratives. His final words encouraged the students to "dream big and break barriers."
This presentation underscored East Woods School's commitment to celebrating local history and the broader narrative of the United States and the world, engaging students and faculty in meaningful discussions about our shared heritage.