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Parade celebrates heritage, diversity in Roosevelt, Freeport, Hempstead

Antwan Thornton, Jarren Style, 11, Loren Lake, 8,

Antwan Thornton, Jarren Style, 11, Loren Lake, 8, and Ashley Johnson march with the N.A.A.C.P. Hempstead Branch along Nassau Road in Roosevelt during the third annual African American Heritage Parade, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

For Louis Romero, the growing diversity in Hempstead, Freeport and Roosevelt is something to celebrate.

But there's still a "fragmented culture" in those communities, said Romero, who works with local teens as an outreach worker for a nonprofit.

Some racial and ethnic groups "don't really interact," said Romero, 41, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in Roosevelt.

Saturday, organizers of the Long Island African American Heritage Parade addressed that in part -- recognizing black history but also highlighting diversity.

About 200 people marched in the third annual parade, which spanned more than three miles and ended with a festival outside Hempstead Village Hall. Community leaders and activists sought to unite different cultural factions in the communities, home to large populations of Latinos and blacks.

"We're hoping to bring more attention to this community," said Terenna Williams, chief executive of Glory House Recovery in Hempstead, which works with the homeless and needy.

The message behind the event, she said, is simple: "We are unified; we embrace everyone."

Some Latino marchers held signs declaring "I am important," written in Spanish.

"This is a community parade," said David Santos, a community organizer with the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County's Roosevelt-Freeport branch.

For Hempstead Village Justice Ayesha Brantley, the parade was also a way to reach out to the young people who often appear in her courtroom and "show them that they matter."

Seven grand marshals led the parade, symbolizing the seven principles of Kwanzaa. At the festival, music filled the air -- from gospel and hip-hop to R&B.

Black History Month may be in February, but Brantley and others saw no point in waiting until then.

"We should be able to celebrate ourselves throughout the year," she said.

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