In celebration of another year of grassroots community organizing throughout the state of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY) at their annual gala yesterday.
A crowd of nearly 500 VOCAL members and honorees filled Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. The boisterous crowd stood, wooed, stomped in celebration of the organizations’ and honorees’ year of work. Banners with the words “Women With HIV Rising Up” and “No More Drug War” lined the performance hall.
VOCAL honored four community and statewide leaders. All honorees worked to increase social service access, empower, and protect people affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and mass incarceration.
De Blasio introduced the evening’s first honoree. VOCAL honored Steve Banks, New York City’s Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, for his leadership and efforts to increase access to the city’s services. He was specifically honored for his work that led to 24 percent less evictions in the last two years than in 2014.
“Blasio and Banks have stood by our efforts to cap rent at 30% of income,” community organizer Reginald Brown said, after an evening emceeing and celebrating. Throughout the evening, Brown thanked organizers and riled the crowd in support of their accomplishments.
New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Kassandra Frederique, was the evening’s second honoree. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick made the trek to NYC to introduce her.
“[Frederique] understands that the war on drugs is a war on people,” Myrick said.
Amidst the evening’s celebration, all who spoke enthralled the audience to keep fighting.
“Liberation will only be successful if those that are black, queer, and transgender are put in power. It’s our turn to write the policy,” said Frederique. The crowd cheered, and an audience member in the balcony held up a huge cardboard cutout of Frederique’s face with enthusiasm.
The evening’s final honorees were VOCAL employee Carl Stubbs and JustLeadershipUSA Founder and President Glenn E. Martin. Stubbs praised VOCAL and shared his own story of empowerment.
“I was in prison. I have HIV and [hepatitis ]. My son was killed by cops in the Bronx,” Stubbs said. “VOCAL changed my life in so many ways. [Now] I’m a community leader.”
The organization honored Stubbs for service to his community. He has helped to pass 9 bills in Albany while empowering all generations and members of his community.