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Leaders In Politics, Journalism & The Arts Hailed At Black History And Heritage Celebration

White Plains, NY — The Westchester County Board of Legislators gathered Monday, February 26, to honor community leaders in politics, journalism and the arts as part of the Board's annual Black History and Heritage Celebration.

Legislator Lyndon Williams presented a Board proclamation to Ruth Hassell-Thompson, former State Senator and current Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs for New York State Housing and Community Renewal.  

“Having served with her on the Mount Vernon City Council, I can attest to you her leadership, dedication and caring for her constituents, particularly those who are economically and otherwise disadvantaged," Legislator Williams said.

Hassell-Thompson served in the New York State Senate in the 36th Senatorial District from 2001 to 2016, representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester Counties.

She was elected to the Mount Vernon City Council in 1993 and served as Council President and Acting Mayor. As a retired nurse/counselor for Mount Vernon Hospital, Senator Hassell-Thompson founded “The Gathering,” a women’s center in Mt. Vernon and as a health educator, worked with persons infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Prior to holding elected office, Senator Hassell-Thompson was President/CEO of Whart Development Company, Inc. where she was known for her expertise in minority business. She was also Executive Director of the Westchester Minority Contractors Association (WMCA), refining her knowledge of economic development issues which impacted people of color and was consultant to the Automotive Consultant, Inc.

Legislator Kitley S. Covill presented a Board proclamation to photographer, writer, director and educator John Shearer of Katonah, whom Legislator Covill called “a national treasurer,” and “and unsung hero who is now being sung.”

Shearer has won 175 national photography awards and has had his work exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, among other cultural institutions.  

He began his career in the 1960s at LOOK magazine covering civil rights marches in the South and race riots. In the late 1960s, he was hired by LIFE magazine, where he worked as a staff photographer until it ceased regular weekly publication in 1972.  He was the second African American staff photographer there.  Shearer is known for his 1971 LIFE coverage of the first Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight and for his coverage of the 1972 Attica Prison riots. He was the only photographer allowed inside the prison during the assault by law enforcement and many of his pictures were used in court cases brought by the state involving inmates and prison guards.

Legislator and Board Vice Chair Alfreda Williams and Legislator Catherine Borgia presented a Board proclamation to educator, activist and journalist Sandra T. Blackwell, publisher and editor of The Westchester County Press.

Of Blackwell, Vice Chair Williams said she “can never receive enough recognition for the work that she's done here in Westchester County in terms of running The County Press for these last nine years and teaching for over 40 years in the Westchester school system," joking of Blackwell's work at The Press, "I don't know anyone who'd volunteer for nine years for a job that's full time."

Before becoming publisher of the County's only weekly African American newspaper, Blackwell had a 40-year career as a special education teacher, working with students with special needs and learning disabilities and becoming very involved in community and political activities.
She became a district leader in the Yorktown Democratic Committee and joined the newly formed Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus in 1979. Sandra served as its second countywide president from 1981 to 1984 and as president of the Black Democrats of Westchester from 1984 to 1988. She twice ran for county legislator in District 4 in 1985 and 1987, but still had time to volunteer at The Westchester County Press, a position she continued for twenty-three years. She currently serves as vice chair of the Westchester County Democratic Executive Committee.

Sandra became the publisher and editor of The Westchester County Press after the passing of Publisher M. Paul Redd, Sr. in 2009. Now in her ninth year as publisher and editor, Blackwell helped create and design the paper’s format as we know it today.

She has received numerous awards over the years, including the Harriet Tubman Award for her community service from The Women of Mount Hope AME Zion Church in White Plains on the occasion of their 72nd Annual Celebration.

(PICTURED ABOVE: From left to right: Sandra T. Blackwell, John Shearer, Ruth Hassell-Thompson; PHOTO CREDIT: Teresa Toscano)

(From left to right: Legislator Lyndon Williams, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Chairman of County Board of Legislators Ben Boykin; PHOTO CREDIT: Teresa Toscano)


(From left to right: Chairman of County Board of Legislators Ben Boykin, John Shearer, Legislator Kitley S. Covill; PHOTO CREDIT: Teresa Toscano)


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