BY ALLAN GOLDSTEIN
For the eighth consecutive year Nyack College paid tribute to the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with its annual Social Justice Day Luncheon held on January 18 at the Nyack Seaport. A special awards ceremony was held honoring persons who have contributed in the areas of education and social justice.
Social Justice Awards were given to Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, SUNY Rockland Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Arlene W. Clinkscale, and Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman. The keynote speaker was Sean Pica, a 2001 graduate of Nyack College, who is now the executive director of Hudson Link, an organization that works inside the state penal system to educate and rehabilitate prisoners.
Each of the honorees boasts impressive credentials as people Zugibe was the lynchpin for the creating the county’s Special Victims Unit and the expansion of the High School Intervention and Diversion Program.
Clinkscale, who was the first African American teacher in the Pearl River school district and taught for 52 years at the Jefferson Elementary School, commented, that she “was just humbled to receive this honor.” She also broke historic ground at the first African American female superintendent in New York State.
Trotman is a member of Rockland County’s Human Rights Commission and a co-founder of Kid’s Corner Day Care Center. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who has earned many honors including the Buffalo Soldiers Award, named after members of the 10th Black Cavalry Regiment.
He noted, “It is the people who lost their lives fighting for social justice who got us where we are today. I accept this honor but I don’t know if I deserve it. But I will accept it for the unsung heroes, the foot soldiers who never got recognized.”
Earl Miller, the college’s executive director of community relations, commented that “this event serves as a prelude to the holiday and provides an opportunity for the college community and citizens of Rockland County to celebrate bridge builders who reflect through their service the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. And, particularly as it relates to the model of the beloved community.”
He added, “This event is always considered to be a community event, not a fundraiser, a friend-raiser.”
Also attending the day’s festivities was an original recipient of the Social Justice Award, Frances Pratt. She was the long-time president of the Nyack branch of the NAACP, is a member of the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame and served for many years on the Nyack Hospital nursing staff.
Keynote speaker Pica received his degree in prison as part of a program that Nyack College initiated 14 years ago. Now with Hudson Link his goal is to make certain that many others take the same path to rehabilitation. Today he is working towards his third Masters degree.
Pica is extremely proud to point out that in the general prison population there is a 60 percent rate of recidivism. “In our program the rate is zero,” he said. In his speech he noted that “it is appropriate that we discuss the role of education in helping to equalize the inequalities that exist in our society and in helping to provide freedom–freedom of the mind and soul.”
He added that his students “had no freedom to roam the campus. But instead, what they wanted was to gain the freedom needed to free their minds of not only the place they lived in, but their place in society.”
He continued, “Accomplishing this lofty goal meant that we needed an amazing college partner to get involved and take action. This partner is Nyack College and the year was 1998. To me, education is so much more than just a curriculum I studied but the ability to continually grow and become a better person as a whole.”