At the Progressive American Community Empowerment organization’s meet-and-greet last week at the Merrick Golf Course, it was clear that everyone in attendance was there for one reason: to promote a sense of togetherness and understanding of other cultures in Nassau County’s diverse communities.
In partnership with the South Merrick Community Civic Association and State Sen. Steve Rhoads’ office, dozens of people from several communities, ethnic groups and backgrounds that Rhoads represents came out on Feb. 23, to learn what PACE is all about, and how the organization helps minority communities find a voice in local issues.
Several other elected officials including State Assemblymen Dave McDonough and John Mikulin, County Legislator Tom McKevitt and Town Councilman Chris Carini also attended, to explain how they’re at the forefront of public concerns, and are always able to provide assistance, on issues big or small.
“This evening is about love — this evening is about coming together,” Saeed Hassan, chairman of PACE said at the meeting. “This would not have been possible without your presence, and we invited our elected members. They want to see you, so that this gives them encouragement to work harder for the community.”
Before the crowd had the opportunity to hear from elected officials, blessings were said and provided by local Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders.
Joe Baker, president of the South Merrick Civic, said it was great to see so many people of different backgrounds in the room.
“It’s a wonderful thing that we are able to have so many different cultures, religions, ethnic groups get together, speak together and network together,” he said. “We’re going to continue this tradition — our model has always been neighbors helping neighbors.”
McDonough, who’s served the communities of Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh and Seaford for 21 years, encouraged the crowd to remember that all of the elected officials in the room work as direct public servants. “Remember — we are there for you,” he said. “We are your employees. We will never turn you down.”
The main purpose of PACE, Hassan said, is to bring people together, while also working in several areas of public service.
It helps Islamic communities access food at Halal pantries, works with politicians on a number of topics, and encourages people in minority communities to vote, in not just national elections, but also local ones too.
“PACE believes in empowerment, to nutrition and social interaction for marginalized communities,” Hassan explained. “PACE is a nonprofit organization, with an objective to serve the community.”
Hassan added that PACE wants to ensure that everyone in every community knows what their rights are, and knows how to get in touch with elected officials — hence the purpose of Thursday night’s meeting.
McKevitt, who represents North Merrick, North Bellmore, North Wantagh, East Meadow and Salisbury, spoke on some of the things he and colleagues at the legislature are responsible for, including the Nassau County Police Department, which accounts for one-third of the county’s budget. He said at both the local and state level, officials like him are fighting every day to repeal cashless bail, which can put repeat criminal offenders back on the street.
“What you have in front of you today is a bunch of public officials — we all do different things, we’re all responsive to you,” he added. “Call any of us, we’ll get you to the right place.”
The evening concluded with the crowd hearing from Rhoads, who like everyone else, was thankful for the turn out. Quoting Ronald Reagan, Rhoads said: “Our origins matter less than our destinations.
“This is our country — we all came from somewhere,” Rhoads went on. “Whether you are from Pakistan, whether you are from India, whether you are from China — wherever you are from, you are now part of the beautiful fabric and the beautiful story that is America. As elected officials, it our job to help make this county of ours, this beautiful state of ours, this beautiful country of ours, your home.”
Empowering communities, he said, means being active and engaged in the issues that affect them, and as state senator, he’ll work to make sure residents understand that people like him and his colleagues are there to help.
“If there’s one message that I want to give to you, is that this is our community,” Rhoads said in closing. “It’s all of our homes. It belongs to each and every one of us. We need to work together to make our communities stronger, to make our communities safer and to make our communities better.”