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‘Learn from our past,’ advises pastor at Suffolk Juneteenth celebration

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Bishop Andy C. Lewter Jr., of Hollywood’s Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Amityville, cheered on the crowds Monday during the Juneteenth celebration in Suffolk County – the federal holiday established last year recognizing the jubilee year marking the end of slavery – to see it as more than a day to “barbecue and party”, but rather “a chance to reflect and learn from our past”.

Lewter, the keynote speaker at the event outside the H. Lee Dennison County Building in Hauppauge, recalled that as a child growing up on Long Island, “like so many others, I was poorly educated on most things that happened in the United States.”

Bishop Andy C Lewter of the Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Amityville encouraged attendees Monday to see Juneteenth as “an opportunity to reflect and learn from our past.”
Credit: Jeff Bachner

When he was in fifth grade at Park Avenue Elementary School in Amityville, Lewter said, a teacher “told me that the slaves were happy because they were fed and clothed.” In middle school, he says, another teacher said “that slavery was not the reason for the civil war. Of course, I would find out later that those things they told me, indeed, n were not true”.

County Executive Steve Bellone said in his opening remarks, “We know that June 19, 1865 was just one moment in the long struggle for emancipation. But Juneteenth is the opportunity for all Americans to reflect on the central role slavery and the racism that sustained it played in our history Understand that history is critical to the future of our nation.

The two-hour program featured music: church hymns, gospel, and R&B familiar to African-American culture. The gathering of about 150 people was racially and ethnically diverse and included many elected officials, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, as well as community activists and civil rights leaders who saw student performances and a gospel ensemble.

Historic exhibits on notable African Americans in Suffolk, on display in the lobby of the Dennison Building, will remain until Friday, Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter told the crowd.

James said that while “undeniable progress” towards justice has been made, “May Juneteenth is also a reminder that the fight is far from over, as long as innocent elderly people shopping in a Buffalo supermarket are slaughtered because of the color of their skin.”

In his speech, Lewter said “the country’s democracy is fragile.” He drew parallels between the US Capitol insurgency of January 6, 2021, where supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to prevent the certification of then-President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. , and the political unrest that led to the Civil War in 1861. .

Turning to James, Lewter said: “I don’t want to embarrass anyone… but I think we have a right to truly believe that in this country no one is above the law. I have so struggled to find out how diplomatically and delicately pose the question, even to our attorney general, how, after six years of seemingly and blatantly criminal behavior, when can we expect to see the president of the former administration measured for an orange jumpsuit?” referring to the prison costume.

The crowd roared with laughter and cheers.

James, who is investigating the Trump Organization, simply smiled.