The Town of Huntington is reactivating its African American Task Force in the aftermath of protests in town and across the country that highlighted racial inequality and police brutality.
Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, who sponsored the resolution to reestablish the task force that went dormant several years ago, said the group will be charged with looking at current events and policies that impact the community’s future.
"It’s very important to ensure the voice of Huntington’s African American community is heard as it relates to town affairs," Lupinacci said. "They will serve as an advisory board that assists the town in addressing issues."
He said it’s not clear when and why the task force, first established in 1991, stopped meeting. The 10-member board is expected to have its first meeting in January although a date has not yet been set, Lupinacci said.
Huntington resident Bernadette Watkins was a charter member of the task force in the '90s. She said crime and the unease in the local Black community then mirror the anguish and protests across the country this summer following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Watkins sprung into action.
"I called the town and said we need to start the African American Task Force again," she said. "The African American Task Force got started to try to work out some of the situations we saw happening in the community; it’s the same way I feel about now with so much going on with unfairness and inequality."
Martine MacDonald, who has been named a task force member, said he wants to bridge the information gap between those who think issues of equality have already been resolved through the valiant efforts of past leaders and those who know better.
"As a Black man I know I’m not perceived as equal," MacDonald said. "I’d like to bring some ideas forward to help African Americans achieve freedom and equality in the educational, medical, justice and political realms, also in the financial and legal realms."
Town Board member Ed Smyth, who seconded the resolution, said the group will bring attention to the town’s "tremendous" African American history, raise the profile of issues in the Black community and help set a course for future leaders.
"It’s about getting greater minority participation in government," he said. "Committees like this are where we look to see who is an active participant in government who wants to get involved."
Former Town Board member Ken Christensen, who seconded then-Supervisor Stephen C. Ferraro's resolution to create the task force, said council members at the time wanted the African American community to weigh in on several areas, such as community policing and failed urban renewal efforts in Huntington Station.
"We wanted to deal with those issues and we wanted the community’s input," he said. "I’m glad they are going to start meeting again. Anything in this type of climate that can ease the distressing tensions that seem to be developing in our country is good; anything we can do to alleviate that and bring people together is a win."
African-American Task Force
The volunteer board will have 10 members appointed by members of the town board
Terms will be commensurate with the term of the appointing board member
Chair and vice chair will be selected by task force members
Director of human services, or the director's designee, will serve as an ex-officio member