East Suffolk nostalgia and fun

Published 9:40 pm Monday, December 3, 2018

By Tonya S. Swindell

Young employees greeted me politely from the reception desk as I entered East Suffolk Recreation Center. Once inside I saw movement and activity in all directions: a hallway leading to a plethora of activities to my left, and people sitting and talking to my right. When I looked beyond the current inhabitants, I found a treasure trove of memorabilia letting me know this was a special place.

I greeted a mentor carrying out his after-school program for kids with behavioral issues. I was told the program takes place Monday through Friday. I talked with a police officer, the husband of my former co-worker who has worked at Obici Hospital for approximately 40 years.

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In the first room I came to, men of various ages played pool using cues they slowly removed from svelte, black bags. They laughed, talked and egged each other on through friendly competition. Within the same room, my son and I played air hockey and foosball.

As we slid a hockey puck and shoved the small ball into one another’s goals, my son and I laughed and talked. A large screen television provided additional noise but didn’t detract from our enjoyment. Across the hall, people of various ages accessed technology from the computer lab.

In workout rooms, I recognized a physical trainer who gave talented kids building blocks to become super athletes. I also spoke with parents and grandparents of boys who enjoyed camaraderie while playing basketball with members of Team Suffolk. Active adults learned line dancing steps from a capable instructor in the gymnasium.

Dance instructors, and a newly elected School Board member, galvanized young girls to compete in local events. After an organized practice, dancers were reminded about academic excellence and accountability. Parents were advised that tutoring was available if needed. Sophisticated Pearls’ competition at noon Dec. 8 at Granby High School will undoubtedly deepen the community’s pride and testify about Suffolk’s homegrown talent.

The former East Suffolk High School, built in 1938-1939, served black students for decades until new schools were built in the 1960s, according to the nomination of the site for the National Register of Historic Places. The entire complex closed as a school in 1979 and since has been used as a community center.

A vintage football, letterman jacket, and pair of cleats were on display along with yearbook pages from the first graduating class of East Suffolk High School in 1943. The memorabilia hearkened to days when dedicated black students attended lectures, completed assignments and engaged in sporting events. On the day I visited, popular activities were cross-cultural and intergenerational.

At East Suffolk Recreation Center, I saw blacks and whites dancing and playing pool. Young and older people laughed, had fun and smiled. Others built physical and mental stamina as they worked out in the gym and interacted with technology. By remaining active and engaged, they all paid homage to people who walked the same hallways in the past.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and is a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.