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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Out of tragedy comes hope and Common Ground

Joselo Lucero was smiling.

For one evening, he wasn't the center of attention. He didn't have to stand at a microphone or say one word about the senseless death of his brother, Marcelo, or talk about the ongoing trial of one of the suspects.

At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset on Tuesday, he was just part of a group. He was there as a new organization, Common Ground, held its first public program on Long Island.

Each of Common Ground's 18 formal members was allowed to invite 10 people to hear a lecture by Carol Anderson, a professor at Emory University, about how a movement for human rights in the United States ended up being narrowed into a movement for civil rights.

The lecture was fascinating, and covered more than can be summarized here - which is why Anderson's book, "Eyes Off the Prize: The UN and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 for Patients and their Families" should be the next stop for people who want to know more.

"It was a good night," Lucero said Wednesday morning, as we stood in Riverhead waiting for the trial to resume. He took off the sunglasses he sometimes wears around television cameras. And he relaxed enough to smile a rare smile again.

"It was good to be among other people, to learn about what other people go through," he said. "I've been with some of the Common Ground people before and they are good people."

Common Ground was founded last June on a really simple principle: People of different races and ethnicities living on Long Island need to learn about each other.

That's why the group, funded by the Hagedorn Foundation, started with a recent study on Long Island immigrants by Adelphi University and set out to find leaders in each of the largest immigrant communities in Suffolk County. They've met together, privately. And a group traveled to Chicago recently to see how a similar group is operating there.

Among the local immigrant communities represented Tuesday night were Irish, African-American, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Korean and Turkish.

"We looked for people who are leaders in their own communities," said Darren Sandow, a Common Ground member who is also executive director of the Hagedorn Foundation. "People who were below the radar."

The group's agenda for now is simply to know more about each other and about each others' communities. It will continue to grow, slowly, members said.

Joselo Lucero is not a formal Common Ground member. He lives in Suffolk, but hasn't made a decision on whether he will stay.

"He brings a seriousness to the table," said Lucius Ware, an NAACP leader who also attended Tuesday's program - and who came out to the trial in Riverhead to support Lucero Wednesday. "He's a natural leader who would add a lot."

Lucero thought enough of Common Ground to make the long trek from Riverhead to Manhasset for the program and then back out to Medford on Tuesday.

It was good to get a break, he said. It probably felt especially good to get away from the painful testimony - about hatred, about death, about his brother's last moments - to a place where people of many races and ethnic backgrounds came together in peace.

But it didn't last long. Wednesday, Lucero was back in court.

And as he heard testimony from a childhood friend about his brother's fight for his life near the Patchogue train station, Joselo Lucero cried.

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