Social justice shines in annual ERASE Racism awards

Difference makers: ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross (center) congratulates social equity-minded 2019 award-winners Lorna Lewis (left) and David Gallo.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A civic-minded entrepreneur, a leading Long Island educator and a longtime champion of social-equality causes have been honored by the region’s most progressive civil rights group.

Syosset-based ERASE Racism, which formed in 2001 to lead public-policy advocacy and regional initiatives promoting social justice, has saluted its 2019 award-winners, each responsible for promoting equity in education, housing and other critical social arenas.

Jericho-based low-income housing developer Georgica Green Ventures earned the ERASE Racism Leadership Award, while Spelman College President Emerita Beverly Daniel Tatum and Lorna Lewis, superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, each received ERASE Racism’s Abraham Krasnoff Courage and Commitment Award.

The Courage and Commitment Award is named for the late Abraham Krasnoff of Glen Cove, former chairman and CEO of the Port Washington-based Pall Corporation and longtime chairman of the Long Island Community Foundation – a “key proponent” of ERASE and its mission, according to the Syosset organization.

That mission is reflected clearly in the efforts of Georgica Green Ventures, which has rehabilitated and/or acquired 221 housing units in Nassau and Suffolk counties since founder and CEO David Gallo launched the LLC in 2012.

Those 221 Long Island projects are among more than 1,000 closings on affordable-housing units, exceeding $500 million in total development costs, completed in the last seven-plus years, according to the company, which has another 275 Nassau and Suffolk projects scheduled for rehabilitation, redevelopment or construction work.

ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross – who presented the awards during the organization’s annual benefit event, held June 11 at the Garden City Hotel – called Gallo “a true advocate for affordable housing.”

“He really believes that affordable housing can be an asset for any community,” Gross told Innovate LI. “Some developers say they are doing affordable housing, but what you have are communities with concentrated poverty or a segregated community.

“Dave believes affordable housing is not only needed for this region, but is something that should be available in all kinds of communities,” she added. “We thought that was worthy of recognition.”

Cafeteria lady: Gross (right) presents the Abraham Krasnoff Courage and Commitment Award to Beverly Daniel Tatum.

Tatum, a professional psychologist and renowned education-equity scholar, served nearly 14 years as president of Atlanta’s Spelman College. Her research focuses primarily on race in education, racial identity-development in teenagers and the assimilation of black families into white neighborhoods.

The University of Michigan PhD and frequent author – including the landmark publication “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race” – was a 2014 winner of the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology, the highest recognition of the American Psychological Association.

Referencing Tatum’s “national stature,” Gross said the well-known researcher was a natural selection for the Krasnoff Award, ERASE Racism’s highest annual honor.

“The books that she has authored reflect a level of understanding related to racial equity in public-school education that is rarely seen,” the president noted. “That’s also one of our main program areas, and we wanted to recognize that work.”

The same could be said for her fellow 2019 Krasnoff Award winner. Lewis, the first woman of color to head up the NYS Council of School Superintendents, boasts a 40-year education career, including her current role as Plainview-Old Bethpage superintendent – and her side gig as a member of the ERASE Racism Board of Directors.

Gross was quick to note that her organization “doesn’t only honor board members,” but said it’s hard to overlook the contributions Lewis – a Jamaica native who earned a master’s degree in physics from Rutgers University and a doctorate in science education at Columbia University’s Teachers College – has made during her lengthy career.

“We were particularly pleased that Dr. Lewis took the opportunity afforded her by being president of the NYS Council of Schools Superintendents to push for equity and inclusion as a priority of her administration,” Gross said, noting Lewis was instrumental in arranging a June forum that united ERASE Racism and The Education Trust at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

“She has been very vocal about the need for more educators of color,” Gross said. “And she has demonstrated her excellence in her current positions and in her previous position as superintendent of the [East Williston Union Free School District], which are both majority white.

“Because she’s so vocal, she’s really educating her students and her parents,” Gross added. “Some people just talk the talk, but she walks the walk.”

The June 11 benefit coincided with ERASE Racism’s How Do We Build a Just Long Island? effort, which launched in late 2018 with five public forums across Long Island. Nearly a year later, the initiative continues to engage Long Islanders in understanding and combatting structural racism and discrimination through in-person forums, online discussions, in-depth reports and frank analysis, along with advocacy for progressive policies and legislation.

“We are thrilled,” Gross noted. “We had over 700 people attend those first five forums – I would have been happy with 25 each.

“That speaks to the fact that people are looking for something,” she added. “They realize we are in perilous times. Structural racism is a heavy topic, but they way we’ve approached it is engaging, and I think the fact is many people are really hungry for this.

“Now, people are continuing to be educated – and they are taking action, which is what we’ve always wanted out of this initiative.”