Religious Council taps three for diversity honor

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Juniors from all three Valley Stream Central High School District high schools received the first-ever Unity in Diversity awards from the Valley Stream Religious Council at a ceremony on June 3. The students were selected by their high school principals for demonstrating acceptance, mutual respect and an appreciation of diversity in the community.

“The Village of Valley Stream has 38,000 residents,” said Trustee Sean Wright, who represented the village at the ceremony. “That sounds like a lot, but when you have outstanding young people, you have these great families that raise them and you have projects like this, that gives Valley Stream its identity and makes it a small town.”

More than 20 people showed up for the ceremony, representing various religious groups and organizations. It began with the community members planting flowers in the Religious Council’s Unity Garden on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Central Avenue. Once the flowers, which represent beauty in diversity, were planted, various clergy said prayers for the one-year-old garden. Then, Marie McNair, who represented the Baha’i Center, and Wright presented the awards to South High School junior DeAnna Martin, Central High School junior Anthony Cruz and North High School junior Annaelle Lafontant.

Martin is the junior class president at South High School, and is a member of the track and field team. She recently received the Senate Star Students Award from New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, and said that she always tries to cheer on her teammates. “I feel like everyone deserves to have a chance to be heard and nobody should be called out for being different,” Martin said. “It’s nice to be recognized for that.”

Cruz serves as the president of Central High School’s Brave Club. This school year, he organized Central High School’s walkout to remember the victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and petitioned the Board of Education to allow a student to serve as a nonvoting member of the board. Cruz said that although he received the award, it’s really a reflection of the work done to promote acceptance at the school.

“Anthony is a selfless individual,” Central High School principal Joseph Pompilio wrote in an email to the Religious Council.

North High School interim principal David Trizano nominated Annaelle Lafontant for the award. She serves as an officer on the student council, and said that she thinks unity and diversity are important values in Valley Stream because it is a diverse community.

“She is thoughtful, conscientious, caring and insightful,” Trizano wrote to the religious council. “Her actions are always reflective of our school’s core values of respect, integrity and kindness.”

All three students received the award and a citation from the village. To conclude the ceremony, Sister Margie Kelly of Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church thanked everyone for attending and congratulated the three students.

“Just hearing what the principals said about the students gives me such hope for our community and for our world,” she said.

This story was updated on June 8 to correct an inaccuracy.