NEW YORK – Greek-Americans and philhellenes marked Greek Independence at an event titled “Greek-Heritage Celebration – Education and the Immigrant Experience and hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams amid the Grecian grandeur of Borough Hall’s ceremonial courtroom on March 28.
Sophia Pappas, who oversees New York City’s revolutionary Pre-K program was the keynote speaker and the event was emceed as usual with style and wit by the Very Rev. Eugene Pappas, pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church.
After the color guard of Boy Scout Troop 531 – “The Golden Greeks” of Three Hierarchs – presented the colors for the singing of the Greek national anthem and God Bless America, prayers were recited in memory of Fr. John Romas led by Fr. John Lardas, Dean of the Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen. He was joined by the Very Rev. Damaskinos Ganas, and Fr. Gerasimos Makris, pastors of the Kimisis and Holy Cross churches respectively.
Zoe Koutsoupakis set the tone for the evening. “We are gathered here today to celebrate Greek Independence Day, the day that reminds us that the Greeks of 1821…fought for liberty, human rights, freedom, and justice for all… and through today Greeks fight to perpetuate human values, and for democratic and humanitarian ideals.”
Her words were echoed in the closing remarks of Andrew Gounardes, General Counsel of the Borough President, who said he was never more proud to be Greek than when he read stories of how the people of Greece, despite their own struggles, have embraced and made sacrifices to alleviate the suffering of the refugees.
Illustrating the complexity of the times, Adams alluded to a phenomenon in America paralleling most of Europe’s response to the migration crisis, the negative turn of public opinion regarding immigrants fomented by presidential candidates.
He urged a room filled with immigrants – legal and illegal – who have immeasurably enriched America and their communities, to “Embrace Your Hyphen,” and then declared “America is great because of that hyphen. The hyphen defines us as a nation…We are not great because we are Americans, we are great because we allow all who come to our shores to bring their cultures and their way of life. It is the cross pollination of ideas, and food and spirit and song that makes us great.”
Adams said “This is by far my favorite event” and proceeded to praise “The Greek community of 10,000 in Brooklyn.” Fr. Eugene later good-naturedly chided him for underestimating its numbers but guests noted that is to be expected given that community members still tend not to vote or be active enough in politics.
The exceptions include many people in that room, but Adams then highlighted areas of deserved community pride. “Greek-Americans really believe whole heartedly in family, faith, and the fundamentals of education…you do it right!
The annual event is also dedicated to public and community service, and Adams shifted the focus by declaring that “I was elected to serve you and not to be served…I am your humble servant,” he said to applause and set the stage for the 12 citizens who were honored as examples of commitment to community service.
This year’s honorees include Nikolaos Lambros and Stella Seremetis, who were introduced by Jim Tampakis; George Leonardos, Steven Sideratos, and Metaxia Konstantopoulos, introduced by Anthony Grigos; Peter and Theodore Mavromihalis, introduced by Gounardes; John Eugenis and Harry Lambrakis, introduced by Fr. Eugene; George Butsikaris and Maria Haviaras, introduced by Koutsoupakis, and Eleftheria Ikouta, introduced by Sandy (Sarantos) Vallas.
Left to right: Honorees holding their citations: Nikolaos Lambros, Gus Lambrakis, George Butsikaris, Eleftheria Ikouta, Stella Seremetis, Metaxia Konstantopoulos, Maria Haviaras, BP Eric Adams, Steven Sideratos, George Leonardos, Peter and Theodore Mavromihalis.
Active in their parishes, regional organizations, and neighborhood civic groups, they expressed thanks for the award, but their crowning moment was being surrounded by their families and acknowledged by their friends and colleagues for their love and dedication to Hellenism, America, and their faith.
Sophia Pappas shined a spotlight on perhaps the most salient of the values that have propelled Greek-Americans to the top of every profession.
She offered an overview of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K initiative, which she spearheads, citing what scientists now know about children’s brain development and studies that demonstrate the importance of family engagement in their children’s learning to show the importance of the city’s achievement in expanding Pre-K from 20,000 to 68,500 children in two years.
Pappas said, “it is truly a special night to be honored by my fellows Greek-Americans and I know that my Pappou Nick and my Yiayia Vasilia would be very proud of me.”
“You should know” Fr. Eugene said during his introduction, “that beyond our looks – which are magnificent – we have the same last name – but we are not related.”
Koutsoupakis was among the speakers who welcomed the guests and thank all who contributed to the success of the event, including the numerous sponsors, the staff of the Borough President, and educator Konstantinos Stergioulis, who coordinated the delightful dance performances in the Borough Hall Foyer of students from the Hellenic Classical Charter School, the A. Fantis, Dimitris and Georgia Kaloidis day schools, the School of Plato, and the afternoon Greek School of Holy Cross Church.
The dance performance was followed by a sumptuous reception and music performed by pianist Areti Giovanou and Kostas Psaros on bouzouki.
Nicholas Chamberas, representing New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, presented the honorees with certificates of merit, whom he said “are a testament to the Greek-American community that has achieved so much [despite] beginning with limited resources.
He invited everyone to march in the Greek parade on April 10th and roused the crowd by proclaiming “Zito I Ellas, Zito Cyprus”
Koutsopakis presented two of Adams staffers, Sandra Chapman and Candace Julien with bouquets of roses, saying “we thank you for all your hard work” coordinating the event with the committee, comprised of Fr. Eugene, Koutsoupakis, Basil Kapetanakis, Stella Kokolis, Grigos, Tampakis, and Vallas.