Don Victor Mooney, the first African American to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat, has launched a petition for a "Resilience Plaque" to be mounted at the Brooklyn Bridge to commemorate the arrival of the first African slaves on U.S. shores 400 years ago.
The campaign is part of a national movement to recognize the resilience and cultural contributions of African Americans since their arrival at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619. The movement spurred a bill in 2018, the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act, which establishes a commission to launch programs, activities and research dedicated to acknowledging not only the contributions of Africans, but also the enduring impact of slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination.
"It is a story of achievement and beauty, poets and presidents, pain and degradation, triumph over adversity and sometimes adversity following triumph," Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who co-sponsored the bill. "This story must be told in full to enrich our understanding of who we are as a country."
Mooney's personal journey began when he rowed 5000 miles from the Canary Islands to the Brooklyn Bridge in 2015, retracing the treacherous routes of the transatlantic slave trade to "bring global awareness to HIV/AIDS, which is devastating populations across the world," he said. It was a gruesome adventure he took on to honor his brother who died from the disease.
Inspired by the experience, he's now speaking at churches and schools throughout Brooklyn not only about his 21-month journey, but about the resilience of his forebears, and why his story is one of many testaments to the power of not giving up.
"It is about sharing this experience with as many people as possible and especially the children," said Mooney. "It's important for them to know their African ancestry."
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving in the U.S., Mooney and a raft of supporters are now petitioning to have a stone 'Resilience Plaque' mounted at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he successfully concluded his transatlantic crossing, after three previous attempts.
"Since day one, the endpoint was the Brooklyn Bridge -- it wasn't St. Martin, Puerto Rico or Miami," Mooney said of his journey. "That was the dream that was embedded into my mind, and, by God's grace, I was able to end at Brooklyn Bridge."
Mooney has become a figurehead of history himself, sort of, brought to life from having slept in the slave dungeons on Goree Island, Senegal, and attacked by Haitian pirates in the Caribbean on his third attempt at crossing the Atlantic. For him, the greatest gift has been the ability to inspire younger generations to see that anything is possible.
"We need perseverance every day, and getting kids to do well in school can be challenging," Mooney said. "Now they can relate to something that did happen and understand that they can overcome obstacles and challenges. With perseverance, studying and having faith, there's nothing that they can't accomplish."
To sign the petition for the 'Resilience Plaque, visit Change.org.