The message to fourth-graders in the Riverhead School District was clear the minute the speaker burst through stage curtains in a black catsuit and cape: Be your own superhero.
Felecia A. Wilson, clad in her best superhero costume, was at Riverhead High School on Thursday morning, along with fellow speaker Evelyn Hobson-Womack, as one of the district’s successful black alumni to talk to the students about overcoming adversity and striving to succeed.
Sandy Kolbo, public information officer for Riverhead schools, said the event was the second in a series of alumni speakers brought to campus to talk about their paths to success.
Wilson, who still lives in Riverhead and is vice president for Fidelity National Title Insurance, told students about her troubled upbringing and her strong desire to succeed and avoid raising her own daughter on welfare, as she was raised.
She talked about being left to live with her grandmother in North Carolina. She also discussed with the students her experience entering a prejudiced workforce where she said she had to prove herself more than others because she was black.
“Who’s your superhero?” she asked an auditorium packed with students from Riverhead’s four elementary schools and the Riverhead Charter School.
When the students answered, she said, “Well, that person won’t always be with you. You have to be your own superhero. You have to pick yourself up when life knocks you down.”
Hobson-Womack, who also still lives in Riverhead, was the first black woman, sworn in in 1993, at the Riverhead Police Department, and the first woman to earn a detective’s rank, which she achieved in 2002.
Hobson-Womack emphasized to the students to never settle for mediocrity in themselves or others. She talked about growing up in Riverhead, the youngest of six children, and always having to keep up with her older siblings who wanted to leave her behind.
“There will always be people in life telling you there are things you can’t do,” she said. “And we have to prove them wrong.”
Danielle Fontana, 9, of the Riley Avenue Elementary School, said she thought the speakers had a good message.
“When the last person said, ‘When life knocks you down, you have to get back up,’ I thought that was important,” she said. "I think that’s something I’ll remember.”