Anti-Bias Task Force to host Black History event

Later this month, Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force is hosting a free screening at The Suffolk (118 East Main St., Riverhead) of the 2019 film “Just Mercy,” starring Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson — about an attorney who defends a man wrongly condemned to death row. 

The screening, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 28, will be preceded by a panel forum featuring Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Riverhead Supervisor Tim Hubbard and Riverhead ABTF chairperson Mark McLaughlin, who is organizing the event with the support of many in the community. 

Tanger Outlets will be distributing free gift bags at the event, which will feature East End Arts’ Martin Luther King Jr. mosaic portrait. Riverhead’s Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Improvement District are also involved in marketing and promotion.

Mr. McLaughlin had been contemplating a community event in honor of Black History Month, and on New Year’s Eve, he talked to Riverhead Councilman Kenneth Rothwell, one of the Town Board’s liaisons to the task force. 

Mr. McLaughlin didn’t have everything ironed out yet. It was still more of an idea at the time, he said. 

“I want to do something called ‘Black history on Screen,’ ” he said he told the councilman.

Mr. Rothwell agreed on the vision and suggested Mr. McLaughlin take his idea to the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force committee, which supported his vision.

Next, Mr. McLaughlin when to Gary Hygom, executive director of The Suffolk.

“Gary and I have talked about doing events before, and I ran this by him and he absolutely loved it. He helped me orchestrate it. He helped me pick the film, because I know nothing about licensing films.” 

Mr. McLaughlin said that he hoped the forum could be an opportunity for Sheriff Toulon, the county’s first Black sheriff, to “talk about his rich history and his upbringing, and what got him from where he started to where he is now. I look forward to hearing his story.” He added that the forum would also address law enforcement and community issues — and explore county programs that help the formerly incarcerated rebuild their lives. 

“It’s an honor that these guys who are such distinguished elected officials would partake in an event like this. It’s the first one. They have united to create an experience like this. But it’s not going to be the last.”

“Just Mercy” was released on Christmas day in 2019 to critical acclaim. The film currently has an 85% critics’ score and a 99% audience score on the website Rotten Tomatoes.