Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), in association with Brooklyn Information & Culture (BRIC), the Borough President Eric L. Adams, and a slew of electeds and artists came together to honor iconic civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the virtual presentation of the The 35th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. King on Monday, January 18.
Coco Hollingsworth, who is Vice President of Education and Community Engagement at BAM, and Adams kicked off the celebration with remarking on the incredible and often painful year the borough, city, and world has just been through.
“It was a year where yet again we all saw how perilous living while Black can be. Where allegedly using a 20 dollar bill to buy cigarettes or simply minding your own business in your own home can result in a murder at the hands of law enforcement,” said Adams. “Now we’re here in a new year, fortunate to be facing a new day, one where we must give careful consideration as to how we continue Dr. King’s activism and the stark realities that the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought to bear. Our borough may be bruised, but it is not broken.”
Majority Leader and Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant) said that “serving” as Dr. King always spoke of doesn’t necessarily mean running for office, but could be paying homage to the countless essential workers of 2020. “It can mean stepping up in times of crisis to ensure that our city keeps running. We have learned that our grocery store workers, sanitation workers, food service employees, teachers, delivery drivers, and frontline heroes are not only essential to all our lives but more often than not they come from Black and Brown communities and not have received the recognition they deserve or the protections they need,” said Cumbo.
U.S. Rep Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Bill De Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams all chimed in to quote Dr. King’s words or draw from his inspirational actions to fight the current circumstances the city and the country finds itself in after the social justice crises in 2020 and the insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6.
“Our goal is freedom,” said Jeffries. “I believe we’re going to get to that goal because the goal of America is freedom.”
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people don’t remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions,” said de Blasio. “Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that we have the capacity to rebuild or destroy, and it’s shocking that no one can confidently say which will happen. “Whether we survive indeed depends upon whether we build moral values as fast or as extensively as we construct material things. The struggle for civil rights is rooted in moral values as we pursue our goals everywhere, everyone will benefit from the moral awakening our movement compels,” said Stringer. “We must maintain faith in the future.”
Later, keynote speaker Alicia Garza, author of The Purpose of Power and principal at Black Futures Lab, joined performances by PJ Morton, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Sing Harlem!, and poets Timothy DuWhite and Ashley August in their own creative tributes to Dr. King.
Meanwhile, other city officials, such as Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus (D-Coney Island, Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Sea Gate) held virtual forums to generate a meaningful conversation around the future of Black America as it relates to Dr. King’s dream and work. She was joined by long-time Coney Island resident and civil rights activists, Marion Kennedy and Reverend Evelyn Manns, both of whom marched with Dr. King in 1963.
Frontus recounted what it was like two weeks ago to watch rioters storming the Capitol.
“I had to wipe my eyes and say what is going on, what am I looking at here,” said Frontus. “This is where we are now. And when we talk about where we go from here, I think it takes on multiple meanings. There is a ‘we’ in terms of people of African descent, where are Black people going from here? What does the future of Black people look like in the United States of America? What’s going to happen with all the very angry people who believed they were wronged that the election was stolen?”
Kennedy and Manns collectively couldn’t answer many of the proposed questions but commented on the history and experiences that have brought America to this point. They discussed what it was like to be “foot soldiers” during the onset of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and to experience the Black Lives Matter movement coming full circle last year, and the harshness of seeing the “dangers” of white privilege and entitlement remain unchecked.
“The sad thing is it’s falling apart in some way for the very same reason they went to the Civil War with, nonsense,” said Kennedy. “They wanted to hang the Vice President of America in front of the people’s house. That’s where we’re coming from and going down South we had no idea how bad the klan was. They will kill you and did. That doesn’t mean give up. Never, ever give up.”
Manns followed up with a famous quote from Dr. King about hate being too much of a burden to bear. “That’s what we’ve got to do. King said ultimately love is the only answer to mankind’s problems, and that’s where we go. We must not lose our faith, our love, but we must address racism in America. We have a responsibility and an obligation to do this and all that’s going on is based on hate,” said Manns.