Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Mattituck student among group that penned civil rights book

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck student Terrence McKinney with the book, "Seven Days With Carole."
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck student Terrence McKinney with the book, “Seven Days With Carole.”

Mattituck High School student Terrence McKinney has contributed to a children’s book about Carole Robertson, a 14-year-old killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the historic 1963 church bombing in Alabama.

In the book, “Seven Days with Carole,” Terrence, 16, describes how he believed Carole got ready for church that Sunday morning and does not focus on her death.

Instead, in the section he wrote, Terrence has her singing the song “Let It Shine.”

“She’s happy because she gets to wear her new sparkly pink dress,” he wrote. “ ‘I’m gonna let it shine.’ Her mother calls and Carole gets her Bible and hurries down the stairs.

“ ‘Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine!’ ”

Terrence wrote the book with several fellow members of the Suffolk County chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a national organization for African American youths founded in 1938.

His friend Taylor Hamilton, a student at Half Hollow Hills High School East and the teen president of the group’s eastern region, approached Terrence with book idea over the summer as a way to raise awareness of the tragedy’s 50th anniversary. Taylor also illustrated the book, including the cover, which imagines President Barack Obama honoring Carole with a medal.

The story ends with the true story of how the president signed a bill on May 24, 2013, posthumously awarding Carole the Congressional Gold Medal. Three other girls who died in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. — Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair and Cynthia Wesley — also received posthumous medals.

Terrence said he plans to work with his friends at Jack and Jill to write stories about those three victims as well. Carole was chosen for the first story, he said, because she was also a Jack and Jill member.

The group decided not to focus on her death because they wanted the book to celebrate her life and tell the story of a normal little girl who was a Girl Scout, danced ballet and played in the marching band.

“We wanted to keep her memory alive,” Terrence said.

Terrence gave a presentation about the book at Nov. 21 school board meeting, starting out by explained how proud he is of his heritage and how he’ll be the third generation of his family to graduate from Mattituck High School. His grandmother, Louise Funn Heyliger, graduated in 1954, and his mother, Juanita Heyliger McKinney, is a 1974 grad.

Ms. McKinney said she decided to get Terrence and his brother, Justin, 13, involved with Jack and Jill because the organization gives African American youths a chance to meet and learn from professionals of the same race.

“It supports children of the organization who fi nd themselves the minority in their school by exposing them to positive experiences that enhance their self-esteem, social, cultural and educational experiences,” she said. “There is also a strong focus on developing leaders, as well as charitable and service programs that teach the kids how to give back to their community.”

Terrence is a high achiever in school and a Communities for Learning fellow. He also participates in NJROTC and the school’s community service club, volunteers for the Southold Town Youth Bureau and runs track.

He doesn’t mind having to travel to the Wyandanch Ambulance Corps for monthly Jack and Jill meetings because he said the group gives him the opportunity to work on projects that bring awareness to “challenge people to uphold the ideals of equal rights that Carole Robertson did not live to enjoy.”

“We wanted to write something that would make her life seem real and meaningful, not just something that happened in the past and is no longer relevant today,” he said.

Terrence has donated a copy of the book to the Mattituck School District library.

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