This year's Juneteenth Jubliee in the Malverne school district will include expanded educational opportunities, along with a plethora of student artworks devoted to the holiday. Credit: Newsday staff

Kaiden Ulysse, a 16-year-old junior at Malverne High School, sees Juneteenth as an important national holiday to celebrate because it represents a history that, as an African American, "is a part of myself. I don't want to be erased." 

So Kaiden was excited to be involved in planning the Malverne school district's fourth annual Juneteenth Jubilee this Friday, a few days before the June 19 holiday, when district schools will be closed.

Juneteenth marks when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — two months after the end of the Civil War and 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — to tell formerly enslaved people they were free. The name Juneteenth derives from combining the month with nineteenth. 

Kaiden and two district administrators, Malverne High School Principal Kesha Bascombe and Davison Avenue Intermediate School Assistant Principal Stephen Benfante, came together earlier this week to talk with Newsday about planning the jubilee. 

It will be bigger than prior jubilees, they say, bringing with it expanded educational opportunities, along with a plethora of student artworks devoted to Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed it into law.

"We were one of the first schools on Long Island to do this," Benfante said of the school district's initial Juneteenth celebration in 2021, planning for which he said began even before Juneteenth became a national holiday. "Each year, it's gotten larger and larger." Now, he said, every school, K through 12, is involved.

"We have a Juneteenth expressions contest," where students "are encouraged to express what Juneteenth means to them," Benfante said. "It's a way of getting students engaged in the content of Juneteenth."

A new element, he added, was getting high school students from the AP African American Studies group and some members of the High School Select Choir together with students at the Maurice W. Downing Primary School to focus on Juneteenth.

Benfante said the choir, some of whose members are also in the AP African American Studies group, sang for the students "Lift Every Voice and Sing," commonly called the Black national anthem. Its lyrics include the passages: "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us / Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us / Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won." 

"We went down to the elementary school to talk about Juneteenth and Black culture," Ulysse said. "We gave mini lessons, [using] a couple of PowerPoints explaining the significance of the holiday, why it's important to uphold the holidays that tell the story of our history." 

The Malverne district faced racial controversy decades ago. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which said establishing racially segregated public schools was unconstitutional, inspired Black leaders in Malverne to push the state to integrate its elementary schools. Then-state Education Commissioner James E. Allen ordered an end to the racial imbalance in Malverne schools on June 17, 1963.

More recently, Malverne High School students and a group of community members led the petition drive to get the Village of Malverne to rename Lindner Place — named for Paul Lindner, a village founder as well as a grand cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan — after exposing Lindner’s history of cross burnings and KKK rallies on Long Island and Queens.

Lindner sold his farmland to develop downtown Malverne, founded in 1921, and also served on the Malverne school board. The village renamed the street Acorn Way in September 2022 and unveiled a new sign in January 2023.

Fatima Logan-Alston, an adjunct professor in the American Studies Department at SUNY Old Westbury, said Juneteenth draws "attention to our progression." She said Biden noted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution "didn't apply to everyone evenly." She added: "It's always a progression to move toward the ideals of the country, commemorating when things change."

As for the Malverne district's Juneteenth celebration, Logan-Alston said: "I think it's great they're having these educational opportunities."

Bascombe said of the jubilee: "It's almost like a culmination of our school year. ... It brings the entire community together. What's significant about it is we're a very diverse community." 

According to the state Education Department, the nearly 1,800-student district was 43% African American, 28% Latino, 18% white, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American and 1% multiracial in 2022-23, the most recent data available. 

"It's a wonderful time for us to celebrate and display African American culture," Bascombe said. "A celebration of diversity is a wonderful thing that brings all four schools out."

An underlying theme, Benfante said, "is we want to create role models for all our students," from having high schoolers talk to elementary students, to representatives from fraternities and sororities role modeling, as Bascombe put it, "strength in unity."

This year's jubilee is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. with a small parade that will travel from nearby Saint Paul AME Church on Pershing Boulevard in Rockville Centre to the high school.

After that, there will be poetry readings, musical performances, artwork on display, a guest speaker — Laura Harding from ERASE Racism, the Syosset-based civil rights group — and food trucks to provide a joyous atmosphere of jubilees. 

"I loved being involved in upholding the holiday," Ulysse said. 

Kaiden Ulysse, a 16-year-old junior at Malverne High School, sees Juneteenth as an important national holiday to celebrate because it represents a history that, as an African American, "is a part of myself. I don't want to be erased." 

So Kaiden was excited to be involved in planning the Malverne school district's fourth annual Juneteenth Jubilee this Friday, a few days before the June 19 holiday, when district schools will be closed.

Juneteenth marks when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — two months after the end of the Civil War and 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — to tell formerly enslaved people they were free. The name Juneteenth derives from combining the month with nineteenth. 

Kaiden and two district administrators, Malverne High School Principal Kesha Bascombe and Davison Avenue Intermediate School Assistant Principal Stephen Benfante, came together earlier this week to talk with Newsday about planning the jubilee. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Malverne school district is slated to mark Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021, this Friday at 4 p.m. with a parade, musical performances, poetry and more.
  • Malverne's Juneteenth Jubilee is its fourth annual celebration and now involves events, including expressions of what the holiday means from students at all grade levels.
  • Juneteenth marks when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to tell enslaved people they were free. This came at the end of the Civil War and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. 

It will be bigger than prior jubilees, they say, bringing with it expanded educational opportunities, along with a plethora of student artworks devoted to Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed it into law.

"We were one of the first schools on Long Island to do this," Benfante said of the school district's initial Juneteenth celebration in 2021, planning for which he said began even before Juneteenth became a national holiday. "Each year, it's gotten larger and larger." Now, he said, every school, K through 12, is involved.

"We have a Juneteenth expressions contest," where students "are encouraged to express what Juneteenth means to them," Benfante said. "It's a way of getting students engaged in the content of Juneteenth."

A new element, he added, was getting high school students from the AP African American Studies group and some members of the High School Select Choir together with students at the Maurice W. Downing Primary School to focus on Juneteenth.

Benfante said the choir, some of whose members are also in the AP African American Studies group, sang for the students "Lift Every Voice and Sing," commonly called the Black national anthem. Its lyrics include the passages: "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us / Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us / Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won." 

"We went down to the elementary school to talk about Juneteenth and Black culture," Ulysse said. "We gave mini lessons, [using] a couple of PowerPoints explaining the significance of the holiday, why it's important to uphold the holidays that tell the story of our history." 

Past tensions

The Malverne district faced racial controversy decades ago. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which said establishing racially segregated public schools was unconstitutional, inspired Black leaders in Malverne to push the state to integrate its elementary schools. Then-state Education Commissioner James E. Allen ordered an end to the racial imbalance in Malverne schools on June 17, 1963.

More recently, Malverne High School students and a group of community members led the petition drive to get the Village of Malverne to rename Lindner Place — named for Paul Lindner, a village founder as well as a grand cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan — after exposing Lindner’s history of cross burnings and KKK rallies on Long Island and Queens.

Lindner sold his farmland to develop downtown Malverne, founded in 1921, and also served on the Malverne school board. The village renamed the street Acorn Way in September 2022 and unveiled a new sign in January 2023.

Fatima Logan-Alston, an adjunct professor in the American Studies Department at SUNY Old Westbury, said Juneteenth draws "attention to our progression." She said Biden noted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution "didn't apply to everyone evenly." She added: "It's always a progression to move toward the ideals of the country, commemorating when things change."

As for the Malverne district's Juneteenth celebration, Logan-Alston said: "I think it's great they're having these educational opportunities."

From left: Nicole Henderson, a school board member who helped plan...

From left: Nicole Henderson, a school board member who helped plan the Jubilee, with Malverne High School junior Kaiden Ulysse and Davison Avenue Intermediate School Assistant Principal Stephen Benfante. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A culmination of sorts

Bascombe said of the jubilee: "It's almost like a culmination of our school year. ... It brings the entire community together. What's significant about it is we're a very diverse community." 

According to the state Education Department, the nearly 1,800-student district was 43% African American, 28% Latino, 18% white, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American and 1% multiracial in 2022-23, the most recent data available. 

"It's a wonderful time for us to celebrate and display African American culture," Bascombe said. "A celebration of diversity is a wonderful thing that brings all four schools out."

An underlying theme, Benfante said, "is we want to create role models for all our students," from having high schoolers talk to elementary students, to representatives from fraternities and sororities role modeling, as Bascombe put it, "strength in unity."

This year's jubilee is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. with a small parade that will travel from nearby Saint Paul AME Church on Pershing Boulevard in Rockville Centre to the high school.

After that, there will be poetry readings, musical performances, artwork on display, a guest speaker — Laura Harding from ERASE Racism, the Syosset-based civil rights group — and food trucks to provide a joyous atmosphere of jubilees. 

"I loved being involved in upholding the holiday," Ulysse said. 

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