The Brooklyn community, joined by local elected officials and civic leaders, gathered on Monday at BAM for the 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute, both a loving commemoration and a call to action to keep the “dream” alive.
City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries hosted this year’s celebration that featured speeches by Senator Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, among others, as well as life performances by Washington D.C.-based Rapper Oddisee and the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir. Activist and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke gave this year’s keynote address.
The crowd in the packed Howard Gilman Opera House greeted Senator Schumer with cheers and standing ovations when Congressman Jeffries introduced him as the leading Democrat standing up to the “hater in the White House, the Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Schumer honored Dr. King as a moral authority who held up a mirror to America to see an image,” which it didn’t like but paved the path to change.”
“We have come a long way, but we have so much further to go. And we have been set back by the man in the White House,” said Schumer who proceeded to read from Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “It is now as true as it was back then when Dr. King wrote this letter: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We cannot wait.’ And we will not wait. Keep up the fight!”
Congresswoman Clarke followed with the reminder that democracy is a not spectator’s sport, but requires participation.
“I am here to tell you that the resistance is real at the most diverse congress we have ever seen,” said Clarke. “The question for us is if we want to live the legacy of Dr. King. It is time for service, for sacrifice, for making sure that you make democracy real. Democracy is a verb, not a noun. So when we fight for voting rights, comprehensive immigration reform or laws to protect the environment, we need you. Brooklyn, stand up!”
#MeToo founder Tarana Burke, who began her activism at the age of 14 as part of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement in Selma, Alabama, dedicated her keynote address to what it means to build a movement.
“Movements are grounded in the belief in the human capacity for change,” said Burke. “Movements are about envisioning the possibility of a different world. The architects of the Civil Rights Movement like Dr. King, they didn’t know what was possible. But they knew what was just. And our movement, our work for #metoo, started with the simple idea of spreading possibility.”
She, as the speakers before her, emphasized that the fight is far from over.
“The only normalcy that we settle for is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth for all God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace and justice,” Burke quoted Dr. King and continued, “There is no going back. This is not an awareness campaign. Ending sexual violence is our moral imperative. Everybody must commit to this work in some capacity.”
First Lady Chirlane McCray called for unity in times of adversity, emphasizing that if the people’s struggles are connected, so should be the movements.
“We all share the responsibility to continue the struggle in any way we can and connect them, just as Dr. King did,” said McCray. “Dr. King asked: ‘Where do we go from here?’ He called on us to see beyond our personal experiences and to fight injustice and inequity in all society. I ask you to help move the needle for justice and fairness by finding ways to create more unity in our movements for change. Don’t let them divide us.”
In her closing remarks, Council Majority Leader Cumbo reminded the audience that there is more work that needs to be done, year-round.
“Dr. King laid such a powerful legacy to the Civil Rights Movement that has brought about change on every level, from the LGBTQ community, to women’s rights. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” said Cumbo. “We are seeing the change that we fought so hard for, and we know that it’s not over. We have to continue to dream and dream bigger, to continue to break down those boundaries to have that equality where all of us can pursue our aspirations.
“The work has to continue today and every day.”