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Intergenerational Black History celebration at senior center

By EULENE INNISS | 3/6/2014, 8:28 a.m.
The intergenerational Black History celebration between the seniors of Stuyvesant Heights Neighborhood Center and eighth-grade students at Sankofa International Academy ...
Seniors of Stuyvesant Heights Neighborhood Center at the 2014 Intergenerational Black History celebration Photo by Lem Peterkin

Recent news has been dominated by reports of the elderly being victims of abuse, the “knockout game,” muggings and even getting hit at crosswalks. Most of these offenses are committed by misguided and miseducated youths who demonstrate a total disregard for the wisdom and societal value of seniors. The intergenerational Black History celebration between the seniors of Stuyvesant Heights Neighborhood Center, located at 69 MacDonough St., and eighth-grade students at Sankofa International Academy in Bed-Stuy on Feb. 25 demonstrated a reciprocal bond fostered by love, respect and value for cultural history.

This partnership program between the seniors and students was instituted a few years ago by the center’s program manager, S. Barnett-Burrowes and Ollie McClean, director of Sankofa, a private, independent, African-centered school. Upper-grade students at Sankofa are required to perform weekly community service at the center as part of their mandated graduation requirement. They also participate in Spanish and nutrition classes.

McClean said that she “could not imagine a better example of community involvement than the relationship fostered between the two organizations. The benefits derived by the children are lifelong and serve to make them better citizens and future leaders.”

Barnett-Burrowes said that the “intergenerational program bridges the communication gap. Seniors can deposit wisdom into the children based on their own life experiences and careers while the children also deposit some of their youthful experience. It is amazing to see the perfect blend as they learn together.”

Program assistant D. Chew said, “Sankofa’s children have an exceptional ability to express themselves, have a firm grasp of their history and display excellent behavior.” He looks forward to working with them on a weekly basis.

There is a vast wealth of senior power and knowledge at Stuyvesant Center provided by people such as Eric H. Weston, a Tuskegee Airman who attends the center daily. In addition, there are the Hubbard sisters, cousins of Dr. Ralph Abernathy, a towering figure in Dr. Martin Luther King’s arsenal in the civil rights struggle. Weston, who was an instrument flight instructor, gives the real-life account of the segregated 1950s when he was an airman. The children love to interact with him and then research and discuss textbook historical accounts. He encourages the students to “take advantage of opportunities to advance further than we have, to get an education and use it.”

Constance Oates, a retired New York City teacher and guidance counselor, observed, “The children are very well taught and mannerly.” She has formed relationships with many students. Graduates return to the center to thank the seniors for investing in them.

The students drummed, recited poetry, sang and read excerpts about Black History pioneers. It was a perfect lesson for Black History Month.