Tears of pride and joy overwhelmed the eyes of friends and colleagues of Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board member Brian Mealy Thursday night as Mr. Mealy was honored with the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force’s Helen Wright Prince Award.
The award, now in its fourth year, is named for a North Fork educator who served at Eastern Suffolk Farmers’ Cooperative’s Cutchogue Labor Camp from 1949 to 1961. It honors a person who demonstrates “extraordinary leadership in championing civil and human rights by promoting diversity, unity and fairness in Southold Town.”
Mr. Mealy, a graduate of Mattituck High School, returned home after college and got to work giving back to the community, working as an English as a Second Language Teacher, introducing great books to readers at Peconic Landing and Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library and becoming a member of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board, where he serves as a leader of the board’s Culture and Diversity Advisory Committee. He has also been involved with the environmental group Peconic Green Growth.
“I hired Brian nine years ago, and the library immediately became kinder in every way,” said Floyd Memorial Library Director Lisa Richland at the awards ceremony in the auditorium at Peconic Landing. “He’s just a joy to have around, and I miss him when he’s not around. His voice and his laugh changes the atmosphere. You really deserve this, and we’re proud of you.”
Mr. Mealy’s parents, Dorothy and Otha Mealy, were very active in ensuring equal rights for students when Brian was in Mattituck High School.
Southampton Town Councilman Bill Ruland had been president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board during those years, and, choked with tears, he remembered watching Brian grow up.
“Your mom called me once a week — your family placed so much value on your education,” Mr. Ruland told Mr. Mealy. “I see you as a little guy, who grew to be a man, and while you went away to college, you came back and live here.”
He said that, while Mr. Mealy now has much work ahead of him, he also has the backing of leaders in Southold Town.
“If you ever need help, ask,” he said.
New Mattituck-Cutchogue School Superintendent Jill Gierasch was in tears by the time she started speaking, remembering how the first thing that happened to her when she came to Mattituck was Brian Mealy inviting her to the Anti-Bias Task Force’s Unity Picnic in August.
“Brian’s outreach, and making sure that I felt welcome in your community meant so much to me, coming from a bigger place and a family that I had for a long time in my old school community,” she said. “To come to a new community and to feel so welcome, and to see that Unity Picnic that day that honored so many people and brought so many people together, and really highlighted children, spoke volumes about the community and the role that I need to play here.”
Historian Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, the keynote speaker at the event, said she believes it is fitting that someone devoted to education should win an award named for a tireless educator.
“Our children do not understand our history through the lens of yesterday and today,” she said, adding that current issues like immigration are certainly not new in this country.
“You have to make sure you are engaging students,” she told educators in the room. “They need to see you outside those walls.”
“An award doesn’t mean ok, you’re done,” she added. “You still have work to do. Our work is not done. We cannot forget the people out there who are still hurting.”
“I was overjoyed when I heard about it,” said Mr. Mealy’s sister, Kimberly Mealy of the award. “Brian, I’m very proud of you. I know that you are humbled and surprised to receive this award, but we are not surprised that you are this year’s honoree. It is very well-deserved. You always speak highly of the fact that our family, throughout the generations, were and continue to be generous and to be good neighbors and to be active in the community, making sure students have an education, that they have clothes to wear when they go to school, that they have food to eat when they go to lunch…. We were always taught that to whom much is given, much is expected, much is required.”
“You, Brian, are committed to public service, and committed to make things better for your neighbors, whether you know them or not and whether they look like you or not,” she added. “You treat everyone with kindness, compassion and respect and you are a role model.”
Mr. Mealy, choked with emotion, said he now felt he had much more work to do. He joked that, if the phone at the front desk at Peconic Landing rang during his speech, he might go answer it, since that is one of his jobs.
“Whatever I’ve done, even if it’s sweeping the floor at the library I’ve tried to do to the best of my ability. I want to do the best for you,” he said. “Now I feel I have to live up to the things I’m trying to do, and that’s fine. And you have to help me live up to the things that I want to be doing.”
“I just want to make a challenge to the audience, in a gentle way,” he added. “From walking dogs at the North Fork Animal Welfare League to volunteering at CAST to reading to kids at the library, our community needs help. We are very blessed with the organizations that we have but the same 10 people can’t do the work of the whole community. I’m relatively young but I’m not so young anymore, so I just want to acknowledge young people like Christopher North, a member of the Anti-Bias Task Force. Look out. He’s coming. That’s the next generation, and I can’t wait to see what young people like Christopher North are going to do.”
“Once we realize that we’re part of the human family, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish together,” he said.