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Dr. Cliff and Wylene Wood on "Bench by the Road"

The Village of Nyack in Rockland County is now a site selected by the Toni Morrison Society for a “Bench by the Road.” The bench, placed in Nyack’s Memorial Park and dedicated on May 18, 2015, is named in honor of Cynthia Hesdra, a former slave who amassed a fortune and was known for her entrepreneurship and participation in the Underground Railroad. Many people from diverse backgrounds and different parts of Rockland and beyond were connected at the inspirational ceremonies held in the Nyack Center and Memorial Park. Other connections were apparent as Dr. Lori Martin, a scholar and author who was born in Nyack, returned to Nyack and told of the life of Ms. Hesdra. Bill Batson, artist, writer and Nyack resident who had moved away and recently returned to Rockland, chaired the Nyack Commemoration Committee that proposed Nyack as a bench site and planned the dedication ceremonies. Further connections were apparent as various organizations in the county came together to comprise the Nyack Commemoration Committee that hosted the entire event. And, most notably, Ms. Toni Morrison, a resident of Upper Grandview, attended the dedication and spoke of the significance of the “Bench by the Road” and how happy she was to have a bench placed in her community, saying:

“There is no place that you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There's no three-hundred-foot tower. There’s no bench by the road.”

Indeed, we are all now connected to Nyack, to history and to each other by the Bench by the Road in Nyack, NY, one of only 15 benches world-wide. At the dedication ceremony, a call and response blessing connected all attendees. The blessing was written by my wife, Wylene Branton Wood, who is President of the African American Historical Society of Rockland County.

A Blessing for the Dedication of the Bench by the Road in Nyack, NY

Leader: In memory of the Ancestors from the rich cultures of Africa and from Southern fields of misery
All: In memory of those who struggled, died or survived the starkest inhumanity
Leader: In memory of those who hid, advised, protected and spoke out for the weary travelers on their journey towards freedom
All: In memory of those so seldom acknowledged and often forgotten
Leader: In celebration of heritage, hope, and truth
All: For the advocacy of Lori Martin.  For the power of Cynthia Hesdra.  For the vision of Toni Morrison
Leader: We bow our heads and open our hearts asking that the Spirit of Goodness, called by many names, will favor us with blessings today—
All: That the words, images and music of this sacred moment will be an inspiration and that the bench we dedicate now will invite us to remember, honor and cherish the sacred history that belongs to us all.
Group walking in Nyack

START-UP NEW YORK:  RCC’s Return to Nyack

Connections are also apparent as RCC moves forward to provide more educational opportunities for students.

Rockland Community College had classes in a rented facility in Nyack for many years. However, the center was closed in 1998. The college is now pleased to return to the Village of Nyack through Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program. Plans are now being finalized to include the York Analytical Laboratories in RCC’s Start-Up plan. The plan offers a unique opportunity for RCC students interested in environmental science to have internships and other special learning activities with York’s state-of-the-art environmental laboratory. Michael Beckerich, Senior Vice President of York, describes York’s involvement in Start-Up New York in the following way.

“York Analytical Laboratories, Inc., one of the Northeast’s leading environmental laboratories, is opening a Hudson Valley facility in downtown Nyack, NY. Headquartered in Stratford, CT, York has for more than 30 years provided reliable and leading-edge analytical testing for the environmental engineering community in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The type of projects York is involved in in a daily basis include working directly with state and city agencies on brownfield redevelopment programs, corporations to remediate old manufacturing facilities, wastewater facilities to regulate discharge containment levels, large construction companies on construction of new bridges and tunnels, developers looking for potential vapor gas on a building site, or local oil tank companies removing remnants on a new property.

York Analytical Laboratories is a family-owned and operated business that has grown its business by investing in smart bench technologies, education and cross-training of staff and best-in-class client service.  York’s recent growth and expansion provide unique opportunity for Rockland Community College to give its students a front row seat to NYC’s dynamic and growing environmental marketplace.”

Senior Vice President Beckerich adds, “We are pleased to have RCC’s name and logo on our door and look forward to our work with RCC students.”  The Rockland Community College family welcomes and is excited by its association with York as we strengthen state-of-the-art learning opportunities for our students. RCC is enhanced by this wonderful connection to York.

York Analytical Laboratories logo


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