Chukwuma Ukwu, a five-year varsity football player at Roosevelt High School, hopped the few steps off the I Support Youth Center stage, from where he had just called for prayer Thursday.
“Last year, when I was chosen to play the All-Star Game on Thanksgiving Day, I chose to come here as opposed to playing,” Ukwu said. “That was one of the big steps that distanced me from the game of football and more into the game of life.”
The Roosevelt center was filled with traditional holiday foods, heated discussion, a clothing giveaway, music and prayer for the free Thanksgiving tradition. The Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, volunteers and fellow community members hosted for the 17th-straight year.
Pastor Arthur L. Mackey Jr. expected to see more than 300 faces throughout the day, “people who would have been home alone today and are able to come in and have a meal,” he said.
“This is where Eddie Murphy told his first jokes, right on this scene, Dr. J [Julius Erving] played basketball, and Public Enemy made their first rap,” Mackey said. “Murphy’s goddaughter is in the self-defense class, so he always stays abreast of what’s going on in the community.”
Marion Fleming, 85, a longtime member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, was a volunteer at the event. “I taught Eddie and most of the members in Public Enemy,” said Fleming, a former Roosevelt High School teacher.
Mackey said the center aims to keep youths out of trouble. “There are lots of challenges and frustrations out there, but there’s also a lot of love and we are going to stick together for our community through the thick and the thin,” he said.
Jordan Mackey, 18, described the center as a place to play and learn.
“It provides guys like myself, and girls, the opportunity to express themselves,” he said. “We have Friday Night Live, youths playing basketball — they come together and just learn.”
To meet the community’s natural needs, the church also offers Sunday breakfasts and a gathering every Monday at 9 a.m.
Dottie Herman, CEO of Douglas Elliman, a New York City real estate firm, brought her family and a $1,000 donation to the center, one of two stops this Thanksgiving. “There’s not a lot of awareness about the homeless on Long island,” said Herman, who wanted to change that.
“All over the world right now there are people who fight, are disagreeing or not getting along,” Ukwu said. “As of this day and age, especially in the country in which we live, it is our moral obligation to stand hand in hand, break the barriers and make sure that we as a people — not as a race, not as an entity or group — stand against any injustice or anger that comes between humankind.”
Patrick McGrue, 47, who has lived in Roosevelt since he was young, said the dinner is a positive community initiative he attends each year.
“We live in an imperfect world. Nothing is perfect, but that’s part of growth and development,” he said. “Nobody’s better than nobody.”