Malverne High School students were credited with leading the charge to change the century-old name of a local street, which had been dedicated to a former Ku Klux Klansman.
The street formerly known as Lindner Place after Paul Lindner, a KKK leader who helped develop what later became Malverne, was officially renamed Acorn Way on Jan. 26. Local leaders emphasized that the community’s youth created the change, and the adults followed their lead.
“I believe you’ve just witnessed the power of the Maverick public education and what our students can do when supported in their pursuit of civic engagement,” Lorna Lewis, Malverne’s schools superintendent, said.
As Malverne Mayor Keith Corbett climbed a ladder to remove the yellow bunting revealing the new street name, he yelled to the elementary schoolchildren gathered on the sidewalk, “Are you ready?” The children responded with a resounding, “YES.” Corbett then removed the pink ribbon covering the paper over the sign, and Acorn Way was officially unveiled.
The street name change has become a powerful symbol of how a community can right a historical wrong by listening to its youth.
“We are a community where any child of any skin color, of any religion, of any ethnicity is given the tools in this school district and the tools in this village to ensure that they can truly achieve anything,” Corbett said.
Malverne High School sophomore Olivia Brown spoke on behalf of the students, emphasizing the project wasn’t about her. Brown thanked the more than two dozen of her fellow students who spent nearly two years researching and then creating presentations for local officials to make the convincing argument to rename the street.
“This wasn’t a simple school project — it was a mission,” Brown said.
“Thank you for your hours of research,” Brown said to her classmates. “Thank you for your unmoving support. And thank you for caring about righting the wrongs of this world and uncovering the true meaning of justice.”
The village’s motto, “Oaks from Acorns,” is part of the reason officials chose Acorn Way as a fitting name for a street that rings with the sounds of children from the nearby elementary school and public library.
“This is where our children are going to grow into mighty fine oaks,” Corbett said. “It’s a very poignant name for the street.”
Francine Stopfer, a retired teacher from Maurice W. Downing Primary School, which used to be called Lindner Place School, said her old kindergarten classroom provided nice views of oak trees.
“Acorns are the perfect example of something you plant and it blooms,” Stopfer said. “That’s what we hope that the children will expand upon.”
Some officials who were opposed to removing Lindner’s history favored using it as a teaching tool for future generations.
Lewis said she is eager to place the Lindner Place street sign in the Downing School library “to remind our students of a time when little acorns became mighty oaks.”
Several leaders expressed that the street renaming could serve as an example for the rest of the nation, which could benefit from seeing how the Malverne youth engaged in civil debate about a controversial subject to reach a positive resolution.
“The people who call this place our community have a soul so touching,” Corbett said. “I wish a little of Malverne could spread across the rest of this country so they could see the crowd, they could see the children, they could see what we’ve accomplished.”
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi of the Malverne Jewish Center agreed that the children of Malverne taught a lesson not only to the community but also Nassau County and beyond.
“I am so proud of this village and its people,” Elkodsi said. “I think this should be a model for other towns in the area to consider what things are named after and the potential impact on the residents.”