I came with a plaque in my hand, eager to pay my respects. The last time I was in this building, I had the pleasure of taking my photograph with 200 of Brooklyn’s finest. Now, I was here to attend the home-going services for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson at his spiritual home, the Brooklyn Christian Cultural Center (CCC).
The CCC is a massive structure with an equally massive membership, and yet its’ house was filled with the weight of Mr. Thompson’s loss – a loss that would be poignantly told through the heartfelt words eulogizing such a gifted individual. A loss that would leave neither statesmen nor school teacher a reprieve from dabbing at their faces. A loss that left even the wonderfully magnetic Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Bebe Winans at times without words.
Amongst the plush green chairs lined in never-ending rows curved throughout the sanctuary like long, pastoral smiles, Mr. Thompson’s casket stood atop the podium covered in flowers, photos and letters from family, loved ones and luminaries alike.
Each speaker, many of whom wove through their speeches a solemn grace and humor that somehow defied a service lasting more than three hours. Each one spoke painstakingly, lovingly and respectfully, about the ascendant career of one of New York City’s most determined denizens. It was as if these men and women, who having worked with Mr. Thompson on such landmark cases, were still unable to fully comprehend his sudden loss anymore then the citizen sitting next to me.
Yet the wide-ranging dais of distinguished speakers pushed aside their shock and grief, to look back with fond recall on the many life moments they shared with Mr. Thompson.
What would have been, given the circumstances, an extremely somber proceeding, was nimbly punctuated with unexpected moments of joy beginning with Mr. Winans’ deft and thoughtful transition of the lengthy program, a true gift to the hundreds of mourners who swelled into the CCC on a serenely beautiful Saturday morning from across the boroughs, various states and the Atlantic Ocean. Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, and Mr. Thompson’s former law professor at NYU, was among the many that spoke of Mr. Thompson’s temerity in pushing forward as a federal prosecutor bent on providing justice. Also of note was Mr. Thompson’s former legal partner, Mr. Wigdor, who spoke of the deep affection he developed for Mr. Thompson’s work and his dedication to his family – moments that moved many to tears partly because these moments captured the frankness of their grieving, a grieving laid out so openly for a man with such a private public persona.
The service included moments of personal triumph, as in David McCallum’s stirring recollection of the DA’s advice reminding him to “hold his head high”, as he, and the 20 others like him who had been wrongfully convicted and set to be released, thanks to Mr. Thompson’s ground-breaking Conviction Review Unit — would nonetheless be led to a courtroom through the streets of Brooklyn shackled and dressed in prison garb to hear a judge make the final announcement of their freedom. “Imagine a world,” a speaker mentioned,”without a DA like Mr. Thompson?”
Particularly captivating was the speech delivered by the Representative of Brooklyn’s 8th Congressional District, Hakeem Jeffries, who spoke of Mr. Thompson proclivity to identify truly magnanimous African American historical figures as “greats”, before declaring Mr. Thompson amongst those ranks.
Greatness – a bittersweet proclamation when used to posthumously recognize the work of such a brilliantly determined law enforcer, but it can also apply to the passion with which Mr. Thompson openly displayed for the work he did, and ultimately, the sorrow that he himself may never fully know the impact his actions have had on my life and the lives of countless others.
I attended Mr. Thompson’s funeral largely in part because I had the honor to attend his inauguration at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studio’s. I found it important then to acknowledge that this moment – his moment – had come to be in a climate that seemingly threatened to challenge his very victory. Yet I truly believed that Mr. Thompson was just as passionate about making Brooklyn a better place as most the rest of us.
So often the power of history fails to preserve the work of communities of color that persevere through crisis, so I found it fitting that this plaque was to be created by a small sign-maker located in Brownsville, a neighborhood connected by the loss of Akai Gurley, and yet, in their frustration, still shares in the city’s collective grief. Fabricated in one day, the plaque reflects a silkscreened image mounted onto a rosewood frame with a piano finish, set off by an emboldened logo of the District Attorney’s office and comprised of words uttered by many.
In honoring the “great Ken Thompson,” I am most struck by what separated him from his contemporaries – genuineness. I have met many elected officials, Community leaders, even a few “famous” celebrities, yet I’ve never met anyone like Ken Thompson, and can still vividly recall the way he shook my hand in the hallway of Steiner Studios; his inauguration finished, his supporters eager to end a long day, and yet Mr. Thompson stood firm, still holding onto my shaking hands, as he looked me in the eye and said, “thank you.” It is the kind of thank you that every person — friend and constituent alike – understands, because it is genuine.
I live in a world where very few Ken Thompson’s exist, and as we sat, stood, prayed, sang, cried, and rejoiced together under his house of worship, joined together in this wrenching celebration of a life gone far too soon. Yet it is with a joyful heart that I offer a final rest-in-prayer to Mr. Kenneth P. “Ken” Thompson for his judicious sense of compassion and correction that positively impacted the lives of the citizens of New York City and beyond, and I know I am not alone.
Stay blessed, in peace, the Great Ken Thompson.