A Huntington woman who has spent more than a decade trying to right race-based wrongs on Long Island was honored Thursday as a trailblazer by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District as part of its celebration of Black History Month.
V. Elaine Gross, president of the Syosset-based group, ERASE Racism -- the acronym for Education, Research, Advocacy, Support to Eliminate Racism -- has worked with policymakers to end racial discrimination in such areas as housing and education.
"And, in every job she has had . . . she doesn't sit there and say 'oh here is a problem and it's terrible,' " U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said. "She tries to find a way to bring people together and come up with solutions for the problem."
Gross' organization has gone into high schools to talk to students about inequality and what it means, Lynch said, and that may help change the thinking of that generation.
"Her organization . . . is involved in opening young people's eyes to the fact that what they do matters; what they say matters; how they interact with people really does matter," Lynch said. "And, that kind of education is going to be useful to them in all walks of life."
Before she became president of ERASE Racism in 2001, Gross had been a program officer for a wealthy charitable foundation of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhasset. Trained as social worker, she had also worked in tenant advocacy and community development in Boston.
Gross, 62, and other African-Americans throughout the country are being recognized this month for their contributions to the nation. Black History Month dates to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson, a son of slaves who went on to become the second black student to graduate from Harvard, established Negro History Week. The weeklong observance expanded in 1976 to include all of February.
Though the nation has elected, and re-elected, its first African-American president, Black History Month is still important because it allows the nation to take a moment to reflect on the contributions by African-Americans, Lynch said.
"And, this is the American story through the eyes of African-Americans," Lynch said.
In her speech Thursday, Gross spoke about her group's efforts to reduce the number of school districts -- now 124 -- on Long Island. The current model, she said, perpetuates racial segregation and brings about inequality in education.
"We need changes in our school district boundaries. There is no reason why, and I would say this for all of the students, why all of the students should be denied the benefits of education in an integrated environment."