Cornegy, Sharpton Make Appearance at Spike Lee Block Party

Spike Lee's Block Party
Anthony Ramos and Spike Lee welcomes a Michael Jackson impersonator on the stage. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

It comes as no coincidence that in an election year the 8th annual Spike Lee Block Party this past Saturday had a double dose of politics.

The famed director featured brief speeches from City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) and both Brownsville-native and activist Al Sharpton.

Keeping in the spirit of tribute and celebration the tone of Cornegy’s speech was light, but he used his brief appearance as an opportunity to address gentrification.

Cornegy at Spike Lee's Block Party
City Councilman Robert Cornegy making his appearance on stage (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

“We’re incredibly happy about the people that we serve,” said Cornegy. “And a little bit sad about the gentrification in the community, but we’re fighting hard to make sure there’s affordable housing for everybody, so you can stay in Bed-Stuy.”

Sharpton’s appearance took a more comedic tone.

After he thanked Lee for putting on the event that helped Brooklynites “celebrate themselves.” He jokingly urged black block party-goers to see Lee’s latest film, Black Klansman, “five times” because “Spike needed the money.” He then danced a step to Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough before taking his exit.

Actor Anthony Ramos, known for his roles in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakout hit Hamilton and Lee’s Netflix adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It (2017), served as MC. Songstress Erykah Badu also made an appearance and delivered a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

Erykah badu at Spike Lee's Block Party
Erykah Badu delivering a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

At the corners of Lexington (Do the Right Thing Way) and Stuyvesant Avenues each year the “Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson” block party is held, free of charge, to celebrate the life and music of Michael Jackson, and coincide with the legendary pop singers birthday, August 29th, 1958.

The block party is a celebration of summer culture, brimming with people, mostly black, of all ages, singing along to Michael Jackson’s songs. The aroma of jerk chicken filled the air as a group of six older women broke out into a line dance, and vendors selling everything from pins, t-shirts, and art called out.

No voice louder than the men, and for the first time that I’ve seen, a woman, hawking, ‘nutcrackers’ plastic bottles filled with a mysterious blend of what I suspect is rum punch blend into the boisterous scene. I realized the experience is uniquely Brooklyn.

Spike Lee's Block Party
Throughout the day, the crowd was encouraged to get up on the stage to dance and sing to Michael Jackson hits. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

I’ve gone to Lee’s street celebration for three years in a row.

Being from north Florida, but having spent my more formative years in Washington State, where black culture isn’t as visible or celebrated, I’m drawn to the sense of community, and I share with my fellow Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy residents the collective experience of witnessing the wave of gentrification. Yet, the block party is a chance to celebrate two black cultural icons and seems to be one way to say ‘we’ are still here.

Do the Right Thing Way, in Cornegy’s district, is home to one of the only streets in Brooklyn named for a movie.

Spike Lee's Block Party
Spike Lee hands the microphone to a woman in the audience (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

Photographs by Tsubasa Berg