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Panel: George Floyd, COVID-19 pandemic spark national quest for justice

Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead) outside her office in

Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead) outside her office in Hempstead on June 26.  Credit: James Escher

The nation is on a pursuit for social justice, sparked by George Floyd's death and a pandemic that exposed stark racial disparities in the population's health, according to a panel of experts Tuesday night discussing financial equity for Nassau's Black residents.

The 90-minute event was sponsored by Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, who in February released an updated report, "This is Nassau: Black Economic Equity 2020 Update." The report documents areas where Blacks trail their white counterparts, including income, homeownership, education, credit and debt.

The panelists, in discussing the 20-page report, shared their own experiences and expertise. 

“It is time for another civil rights movement,” said state Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), one of five area leaders who participated in the Black Equity Roundtable on Facebook Live. “We are in the middle of a pandemic which was the one of the catalysts for this civil rights movement.”

Schnirman said more than 120 people tuned in to watch the event that began at 6 p.m. Nassau County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), Legis. Debra Mulée (D-Freeport) and Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview), also participated.

Moderators Lawrence Levy, executive dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University, and Cassandra Porter, a racial equity trainer based in Indiana, posed questions to Darling, ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross, incoming Malverne schools Superintendent Lorna Lewis, Urban League of Long Island President Theresa Sanders and Kimberly Malone, economic development chair of the Baldwin Civic Association.

Panelists said data documenting disparities, such as the comptroller’s report, and a 2019 Newsday series on racial disparities in Long Island’s housing market, "Long Island Divided," dovetail with two recent grim events — the death of Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis in May after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with higher hospitalization and death rates among racial or ethnic minorities.

“We are smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement that we have needed for a very long time,” Malone said. “We have to figure out what we have to do with it. … We have to get people comfortable with being uncomfortable with the types of conversations that need to be had.”

Gross said those conversations are happening. For example, she said her organization has seen a surge of interest in the anti-racism workshops it offers from corporations, schools and other institutions.

“I have to say that this reflects something very different,” Gross said. “They are all willing now to hear about anti-racism” where most of her clients previously expressed interest in “diversity” training.

Sanders said young people must be part of any mass movement, adding that the thousands of young adults who have been demonstrating since Floyd’s death should be tapped.

“We have an opportunity for this to really transform into a major movement if we guide that college-aged individual,” she said. “In the history of movements, younger people were the trigger to move everybody … While they’re out marching, we have to start getting some of them to the table — and if we don’t, we are going to miss the moment.”

Lewis said the pandemic exposed educational gaps as students were forced to learn at home, some of whom lacked internet access. She added that the ways in which schools are funded — such that some Long Island districts are awash with money and others aren’t — exacerbate inequalities.

“We need to fund our education institutions in a way that will allow them to deliver equity,” she said.

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