BAM hosted the 2018 free community event, featuring Mayor de Blasio, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and keynote speaker Jelani Cobb.
Monday morning, Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted its 32nd annual tribute and celebration to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The free event was held at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House and featured a stellar lineup of civil rights activists, musicians, elected officials, historians and civic leaders who gathered for a communal commemoration and reflection on the life and legacy of America’s singular most important civil rights activist and leader of the non-violent social justice movement: Dr. King.
“The fact that this event continues to draw the biggest crowd in New York city on Martin Luther King Day year after year shows his enduring significance in our society,” said BAM President Katy Clark. “His messages are a comfort in times of sorrow, a rallying cry in times of turmoil, and a testament to our ability to lift each other up when we set our minds to it.”
Returning for his fifth year as master of ceremony was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Music performances were by Martha Redbone and the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir. This year’s keynote speaker was New Yorker staff writer and Columbia University School of Journalism professor Jelani Cobb.
Also joining the tribute as special guests were New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, NYC Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“Dr. King and his movement built [so much], and they had so few resources and were up against so much… what he would give to organize in the digital age,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “But we get to organize in the digital age. That’s what we have received as our gift.”
“I am an historian, I’m a writer, and I could not be more happy to see that annually, we recognized Dr. King’s legacy,” said Cobb. “This is important.”
Clearly what was weighing on every one’s mind were the recent comments of President Donald Trump who, a few days ago, leashed disparaging comments about the value of immigrants from countries such as Haiti, Africa and El Salvador, which he allegedly referred to in a closed-door meeting as “shit holes.”
The morning’s speeches was peppered with one-part umbrage for Trump’s xenophobic and un-American behavior since he’s been in office and one-part resolve to push back on his viewpoints– invalidate his leadership even– by reclaiming the vision Dr. King first extolled in his speeches 50 years ago.
Professor Cobb asked all of those of Haitian and those of direct African descent in the audience to stand, which they did to a round of thunderous applause.
“We are taught that in 1808, United States became the first great power to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We are not taught that it was the example of Haiti that sent a shock wave of fear… that made them say ‘Hold up; maybe we should cut this out before people get a hold of this example (of Haiti as the first black republic in the world to abolish slavery completely) and start trying to live the way they did,'” said Cobb.
“These are the communities that we respect. We cannot talk about the story of American freedom without talking about the people of Haiti or the African continent, which supplied the labor upon which this country was built.”
Other free events followed the performances, including a film screening of Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, a community art exhibition featuring works by students from the New York City Housing Authority; and a reading and discussion of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by co-writers Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and author/journalist asha bandele.