“Everyday, modern-day heroes”
Sen. Klein celebrates Black History Month
Story and photos by Toni-Ann Martin
“Where there is unity, there is strength.”
With those words, Pastor Jay Gooding opened in prayer the 18th Annual Black History Month Breakfast at the Villa Barone Manor in Throggs Neck this past Sat. Feb 23rd.
As hosted by Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, the event gathered more than 250 individuals from the Bronx and Westchester in honoring community leaders.
The sense of unity was evident as the diverse group of residents joined to recognize the four designated honorees.
As Sen. Klein spoke of remembering leaders in black history, he acknowledged the importance of recognizing the unsung individuals and outstanding leaders of today whose efforts build strength in the community.
“It’s important for us to know who we are and where we come from. It’s important for us to know everyday, modern-day heroes that fight ever day on our behalf,” he noted.
The Keynote Speaker was former Comptroller William “Billy” Thompson, Jr.
“Sometimes someone comes along who you just know is going to be able to do great things,” Sen. Klein said in his introduction. “He is someone who I think personifies what a public servant should be.”
For his part, Thompson also chose to highlight a hero of his own: his father.
He spoke of William Thompson, Sr., and his accomplishments as former regional head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 50’s and 60’s; the first black state Senator in Brooklyn’s history; a member of the New York City Council; and a judge of the Supreme Court Justice of Appellate Division.
And while Thompson Sr. was eligible to retire in 2000 at the age of 76, he continues to work five days a week as an attorney at the age of 88.
The former Comptroller also spoke of some of the stories his father passed on to him.
As a World War II veteran, Thompson Sr., was wounded fighting in Italy, he said. When he came back from the war, he talked about segregated dining halls.
“The thing he remembered most was that the German prisoners of war could eat in the dining facility, but the black soldiers that just fought for their country couldn’t,” he recalled.
His father also told him about driving from New York to Atlanta in the 50’s to attend an NAACP convention. He and his passengers were able to stop for gas, but there were no hotels or motels they could stop at to rest. They could not enter certain places without using the side door or back door, and no matter how much money they had, there was no place for them to stop because of the color of their skin.
“All of those things are things that I remember, and [that] I will keep in my mind because it lets me understand how far things have come,” Thompson said.
History just isn’t marked in what Dr. Martin Luther King did, it’s marked in the things that people in this room have accomplished and done for our lives, he added, commending Sen. Klein for hosting the annual event.
Richard Thomas, City Councilmember of Mt. Vernon, was commended for being a strong leader and for his improvement efforts in the community. He was named as a key leader in overseeing the improvements needed in the school system, creating jobs and ensuring safety in the city.
Herma Williams was recognized for dedicating her life to tenants and ensuring that housing authority developments remain a great place to live.
“What I tell my residents and I tell this audience today, is that I have a Ph.D., a public housing diploma. When you’re born and raised in a place and that’s all you know, then that’s all you know,” she said.
Williams grew up in Pelham Parkway Houses, currently serves as president of the Pelham Parkway Houses Resident Association, and is responsible for launching the Bronx NYCHA Task Force.
Monique Johnson, a resident of Throggs Neck Housing for more than 40 years, serves as president of the Throggs Neck Resident Council. Johnson is known for helping and mentoring others. Sen. Klein referred to her as a fighter and a leader, and spoke of her giving out turkeys to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving and toys to children whose parents could not afford to buy toys during the holidays.
Lamont Parker was recognized for his work with youth in the community.
As a member of Community Board 8 and the Youth Committee Chairman, he organized the Youth Day initiative, coordinating events such as an ice skating day at Van Cortlandt Park and an upcoming poetry slam Kingsbridge Library.
“I think it’s great that [Sen. Klein] does this and I hope he continues to do it. As African-Americans and people of color,” said Parker, “even though you do it for yourself, it’s great to be recognized for your work.”