This Month from Cliff
Acceptance Remarks for Induction
Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame
March 5, 2014
By Wylene Branton Wood
|Wylene Branton Wood, a 2014 Honoree at the Rockland County Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame with Dana Stilley, Associate Vice President of RCC Enrollment Management, S. Ram Nagubandi, Rockland County Commissioner on Human Rights and Ed Day, Rockland County Executive|
Thank you, Dana for that lovely introduction—I am so touched—and thank you County Executive Ed Day for continuing a wonderful tradition in supporting a Civil Rights and Human Rights Hall of Fame. Thank you, Ram, and the Human Rights Commission Selection Committee that chose me for this honor.
What a wonderful afternoon—to be here among all of you distinguished citizens of Rockland, to be honored alongside Dr. Oscar Cohen, the late Albert Holland and Gloria and Arnold Botwinick and to be receiving what I consider to be the most prestigious recognition in the county—I am truly blessed –and so very grateful.
However, I must tell you that anything I have set in motion or achieved during my time in Rockland has not been accomplished without the help of some very special people. First, I want to acknowledge my colleagues and friends at VCS Inc., who have allowed me to advocate with them for social justice on every front and who have taught me so much about the various forms of oppression and ways to combat injustice. I want to thank the wife of the late Albert Holland, whom we honor today: the late Dr. Jacquelyn Holland, whom I never met but whose legacy has inspired me in my work in the county.
I want to thank Drs. Edmund and Susan Gordon and the CEJJES Institute --they were the first to introduce me to community service in Rockland, and they mentored me and incubated the early revived African American Historical Society of Rockland County. I want to thank Patty Maloney-Titland, Chairperson of the RCC Performing Arts Department and RCC Performing Arts students, past and present, as well as Christopher Plummer, Director of the RCC Cultural Arts Center Theater, Janice Goldstein and Javon Johnson of the RCC Multi-Media Production Center for all of their collaboration and support in producing the programs that have educated thousands of Rockland school children as well as the community about the history and culture of the people of the African Diaspora. I want to thank Jamila Brathwaite for her unwavering support, research assistance and advice in bringing our major programs to fruition. And perhaps, especially, I want to thank the African American Historical Society of Rockland County that has over the years trusted my leadership, shared my vision and worked with me to reach out to the community to teach what otherwise would not be taught.
I thank my friend Wayne Bartow for inspiring me with his activism and for teaching me about the West African concept of “Sankofa.” Sankofa is symbolized by a mythic bird that moves forward while looking back and carrying an egg on its back. Basically, this expresses the idea that we cannot move forward and achieve a good future unless we recognize, acknowledge and understand the past. As a teacher of many years, as a person who learned early in life to value my African American heritage, as a citizen growing up under Southern segregation and recognizing that many people of every hue neither understood nor appreciated the rich and powerful history of African Americans, I have always wanted to tell the story. You see when Africans were kidnapped, transported from their native land, and enslaved in a hostile world, deprived of their freedom----they were also stripped of their identities—forbidden to speak their various languages, forbidden to learn to read or write, torn apart from their spouses and parents and children, deprived of their traditions, deprived of their music, and forced to practice an unknown religion, one used to support their enslavement. In a cruel essence they were robbed of their stories.
My efforts in Rockland, especially on behalf of the African American Historical Society of Rockland County, have been to tell the stories –to teach about the history and culture of an undaunted people-- with the hope that this knowledge would give children of African heritage a proud sense of their history, their strategies of survival, their heroes, their contributions. But it is not just for them. These efforts have also been to teach this history to people from other backgrounds so that they might better understand and value all people of color. In this way I see education as being a key strategy for creating harmony, peace and justice. Education can be a bridge, a conduit to cure social ills.
As we, the very diverse people of Rockland County, seek to work through our issues and concerns, as we seek to address the disparities in education and in our communities, please remember that everyone has a story to tell, and it is through understanding the stories of those who came before us that we get a true sense of our own identities and become better equipped to make a good future for ourselves and our community. Maya Angelou has been quoted as saying, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” But I would say there is no greater tragedy than not knowing your story or the stories of those among whom you live. So do what you can to know your story and to honor and acknowledge the stories of others. For our stories, like our lives, are intertwined.
I am thrilled to be honored among the select few who have been admitted to the Civil Rights Hall of Fame and I am doubly proud that I am in the company of my wonderful colleagues like Phyllis Frank on the staff of VCS and several on the AAHS Board, including Dr. Arlene Clinkscale, Reverend Louis Sanders and Willie Trotman, and with other individuals who were previously inducted into the Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame. Thank you for honoring my small efforts and for your support. This is the greatest honor I have ever received. Thank you.