As you walk into the Riverhead Free Library it’s hard to miss the “Unsung Heroes Who Shaped America” exhibit organized by the African American Educational and Cultural Festival.
Behind a glass case there is a book by Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate a white elementary school in Louisiana; a painting of Mary McLeod Bethune, an advisor to three United States presidents; a section on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and more.
“There are icons that we wish to honor that transformed our country in many ways,” said Marylin Banks-Winter, founder of AAECF. “While some groundbreaking heroes are well known, [such] as Martin Luther King and others, there are many unsung heroes worth celebrating,” she said.
The exhibit will be displayed for the month of February, library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith said, adding that the library is there to support AAECF in whatever way it can.
“It’s great that it can be in the library so that people of all ages can experience it. It’s one thing if it’s in a school, because then it’s really [just for] the school-aged kids, but the fact that it’s in a library allows for people, you know, from young kids to senior citizens to come in and take a look and see everything that she has on display,” she said.
Also on display are artifacts relating to mechanical engineer Dr. Marshall Jones; a book on inventor Lewis Howard Latimer; photographs of the first Black U.S. senator, Hiram Revels of Mississippi, representatives in the 41st and 42nd United States Congress; and more.
“We really want to honor and embrace and uplift and bring awareness to their contributions to not just the African American history, but American history,” Ms. Banks-Winter said.
AAECF is a Riverhead-based nonprofit founded in 1998, according to their website. Their outreach includes prevention and intervention programs, entrepreneur and apprentice training and skills, health and wellness initiatives and others.
“Our motto is to embrace our differences by giving a hand up, and our focus for the youth is ‘to reach one, teach millions,’ ” she said.
The organization also has virtual exhibits posted on their website, according to Ms. Banks-Winter.
“There are our exhibits on our website that focus on pillars of the community and if you go to aaecfinc.org, you will locate exhibits,” Ms. Banks-Winter said. “Click into the links of all the many exhibits that we do have, because we also have them on Facebook … you can actually listen to and view the virtual exhibit that we have.”
Ms. Banks-Winter mentioned that AAECF is fundraising for a building to have these exhibits displayed year-round.
“We’re in the process of fundraising for a building because, we do have many programs, but as far as the exhibits … we want to be able to show them in a display year-round as we are proud of our history and culture and our contribution,” she said.