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Long Island kids will re-enact court case for freedom on MLK Day

Kelly Boston-Hill, 5, of West Hempstead, rehearses with

Kelly Boston-Hill, 5, of West Hempstead, rehearses with Tanya Poyser, a co-chair of the Legislative Committee of Jack and Jill of Nassau County, for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day performance. Credit: Jack and Jill of Nassau County

Families are invited to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as more than a dozen children re-enact an 1800s court case in which a group of enslaved West Africans win their freedom.

The free, hourlong performance is set for 10 a.m. Monday at the Nassau County Bar Association’s offices at the corner of Fifteenth and West streets in Mineola. The 1841 case of the United States v. Schooner Amistad tells the story of the Spanish ship La Amistad, which left Africa with 49 enslaved African adults on board. The captured Africans eventually commandeered the ship and landed on the East End of Long Island, where they fought for and won the freedom to return home.

Eighteen children from Jack and Jill of Nassau County, ages 5 to 17, will run the rehearsal-style event, dressed in jeans and white shirts. “The kids will have scripts in hand and they will be reading from the court case,” says Dana Boylan, an attorney and chair of the legislative committee for Jack and Jill of Nassau County. Two of her children will participate in the performance. Boylan’s son, Grant, 14, a high school freshman, plays the role of Cinque, leader of the Africans. Her daughter, Alexa, 17, is one of the narrators.

“The re-enactment allows you to learn about the experience of enslaved Africans. It humanizes their struggle and fight and allows us to empathize with them,” Grant says. 

This is the second year that Jack and Jill of Nassau County has performed a court case on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jack and Jill is a nationwide organization run by mothers that provides enrichment opportunities for kids ages 2 to 19. It has separate chapters for Nassau and Suffolk counties. Last year, the Nassau group reenacted Meredith v. Fair, a court case that granted the first African-American male admission to the University of Mississippi.

Monday’s event is put on in collaboration with the Nassau County Office of Youth Services and the Nassau County Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Its purpose includes both entertainment and education, Boylan says.

“What’s unique about it is we have drawn from real life cases — seminal cases — that have been cornerstones in American history,” Boylan says.

The script was written by Kathy Hirata Chin, a partner at the New York City office of Crowell & Moring, and her husband, Denny Chin, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. For more information, call 516-227-7134.

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