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Lee Elementary School recognized local veterans at a schoolwide gathering on Thursday morning.
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Lee Elementary School Honors Veterans

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli spoke about his father's service during World War II and encouraged students to learn about world conflicts.
LEE, Mass. — Lee Elementary School honored veterans for their sacrifices and service at a gathering attended by community veterans, public officials, and students on Thursday morning. 
 
"[Veterans Day is] a day when we come together to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces, protecting our freedom and our way of life," Superintendent Michael Richard wrote in a letter read by first grade teacher Lori Curtin.  
 
"[This assembly] is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn and reflect on the sacrifices and dedication of our veterans." 
 
As each name of a veteran family or friend was called out, cheers erupted from school faculty and students to honor the sacrifices they made. 
 
The servicemen and -women who did not make it back home were also recognized with a moment of silence. 
 
Throughout the event, speakers urged the importance of recognizing veterans by listening to their stories. 
 
"It's clear that what veterans mean to the students of [Lee Elementary School] is tied to words like service, helping. protection, sacrifice, safety and pride. We all have a level of personal connection to the word veteran," Principal Timothy Mertinooke said. 
 
"For some, there is a daily reminder. For others, it might be a word that they hear once per year in November. No matter one's level of personal connection, a gathering like this is meant to show and model the respect that each of you deserve, and to begin making a personal connection with the word for the children in front of you." 
 
During the ceremony the chorus from Grades 4,5 and 6 sang patriotic-themed songs including "Thank You, Soldiers," a veterans version of "Hallelujah," and "See the Veterans" sung to the tune of "Frère Jacques." Band teacher Erin White and Grade 6 trumpet players Declan Bowlé, Ryleigh Fillio and Gemma O'Neil performed taps.
 
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said he "choked up" during the students' performances because it made him think about his father, John J. Pignatelli, who died in 2019. 
 
Pignatelli is named after his father's best friend, William Smith, who died in 1945 while they were serving during World War II. Smith, only 19, was killed in 1945 when the plane he was on crashed.
 
Pignatelli's father and uncles served their country but, like most veterans, were reluctant to talk about their experiences. 
 
It wasn't until toward the end of his father's life, when his Alzheimer's prompted him to share more, that he learned more about his namesake and his dad's service. 
 
Every day he thinks about his father and the sacrifices he and his fellow veterans made to preserve their county. The representative urged the audience members to ask the veterans in their life questions before it is too late. 
 
"Every day I think of [my father] and I think of questions that I would want to ask him, still. Don't wait for your family members to pass and have any regrets about asking questions about what they did to preserve our freedoms and protect this beautiful country," he said.
 
Pignatelli also encouraged them to go home and turn on the nightly news and hear about the current conflicts from the war in Israel in the Gaza strip, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the unrest between China and Taiwan, the battles in Syria, and problems all over the world. 
 
"These [veterans] are the ones that historically had stepped up to the plate and hit a home run to preserve our freedom. We live in a beautiful part of the world," he said.
 
"You are going to school in a beautiful community. Your parents and your grandparents and your teachers are investing time in you to have a good quality of life. These are the unsung heroes." 
 
This sentiment was echoed by veteran, parent and School Committee member Kirk Nichols who worked with the Marines while serving in the Navy for four years. 
 
Although at the time he saw it as a big adventure with friends, he can now see the hardships, including being away from his family. 
 
"I see that our sacrifices were for something much bigger than just us, they were for all of you. Our service to our country protected the freedoms we enjoy today. These freedoms include the freedom to practice any religion we choose, the freedom to read books and believe it or not, the freedom to go to school," Nichols said. 
 
"It is hard to believe, but there are parts of this world where kids like you are not allowed to go to school. We are all truly lucky."
 
The ceremony concluded with a statement of hope for a brighter future. 
 
"I hope we all someday live in a world where we would celebrate veterans today but we don't have any veterans," Pignatelli said. 
 
"Think about how special that would be because we're in a world of peace. I don't see that happening anytime soon. So, to these men and women over here, thank you."
 
Photos from the event here.

Tags: recognition event,   veterans day,   

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W. E. B. Du Bois Center to Reflect on Democracy this Season

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.— The W. E. B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy held a pre-birthday reception on Feb. 22, at Saint James Place in honor of civil rights pioneer W.E.B Du Bois. 

During the event community members met the center's first Executive Director Ny Whitaker and Michael Blake, the inaugural visiting scholar in democracy. 

"As Du Bois contemplated our collective challenges, he also set out a vision for what our democracy could be and called us to action for the role that we could take in making it a reality," Whitaker said. 

The night hinted at some of the topics the center will showcase during this year's programming themed "Reflections on Democracy." The season will run from March through October. and will have a closing reception in November. 

Attendees also had a chance to have a first look at the preliminary designs for the restoration of Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church. 

During the evening, Whitaker asked audience members to reflect on the current state of our democracy. She also encouraged audience members to write down their hopes for the future of our democracy in 2024 on postcards that will be posted on their website and to continue the conversation outside of the evening's activities. 

More information on Whitaker, her goals in the position, and the center's restoration here

Blake, a scholar, a lay minister, entrepreneur, and educator who will be the moderator for the center's Visiting Scholar Salon Series, demonstrated how relevant Du Bois's ideas are today with one of his quotes: "he said ‘There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race, or poverty. But with all we accomplish all, even Peace.' That is the reason why we're here not just for tonight, but what we have to do within the center and the work'."

"These words are still pertinent today when looking at what is happening in our country," Blake said. 

"Democracy is not about the protection of a particular party. Democracy is that we can be party of something greater for all of us. And that is what we do," Blake said. 

Blake recently completed a tenure as a visiting scholar at Harvard and was a White House aide under President Barack Obama. He also served as an Assembly member in New York for three terms and is the former Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. 

Blake continued and quoted  President John F. Kennedy: "' Amongst a divided community…whenever there's a child without milk, so long as they are hungry parents and working farmers. So long as they are seniors without pensions. So long will be the need for leadership. And that is the beauty of democracy and that is the beauty of why we're here tonight," Blake said. 

Blake added it is not a coincidence that Whitaker, an afro-Latina, was chosen for the role of the center's Executive Director, he said. 

"To all the women in the room, you should be appalled by what we're seeing. what's happening in the country right now. And I say to people all day, every day, it doesn't matter your gender. I'm a man and I'm a feminist," Blake said. 

"And don't talk to me about what's happening in communities. If something's happened in one community, all of us should be upset, and all of us should be doing something. And that is the reason why we're here tonight and that is the reason I'm so grateful to be with you."

In his address, the center's secretary, John Speer, highlighted attempts throughout history to rewrite and erase historical accounts. Speer shared a personal anecdote of witnessing such tactics but experiencing a profound awakening during a trip to Ghana in West Africa.

When Speer went to Ghana this summer to walk the path of his ancestry, he said he went on an emotional journey of anger, power, and peace. He said he was angry because he believed the lie about the "cooperation of West Africa, in the enslavement of African peoples." 

He said he put his hands in the Assin Manso Slave River, and he chose power and peace because he was welcomed home by his family in Ghana who chose to give him "the power in the gift of truth," Speer said.

"And so I went from ignorance to truth. And in that truth, it gave me the courage to choose justice and to choose democracy and it's really important for me as a teacher, because our history has always been contraband."

Du Bois warned society not to fall for this, otherwise "we will continue to deny our political ideas and make a mockery of our philanthropic aims as a nation," Speer said. 

Speer urged attendees to participate and labor together in "not only reflecting on democracy but changing the trajectory of that history to honor and uplift who we are as people together because we must labor with and for one another."

More information on the center here. Photos from the event here

 

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