BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House was full for the celebration, which featured a keynote by activist and author Dr. Cornel West, remarks from several elected officials, and live music performances by the New York Fellowship Mass Choir and Sandra St. Victor & Oya’s Daughter.
The focus of many of the remarks on Monday’s celebration was a nod to MLK’s work for social justice, while acknowledging that there is still plenty of work left to do.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke of the problems that still exist with poverty and the minimum wage, paid family and sick leave for all employees, and overwhelming student debt.
Meanwhile Borough President Eric Adams, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries all spoke of police and community relations, a topic that has been the focus of conversation in New York City and nationwide for months.
“I’m convinced that the overwhelming majority of police officers across the country are hardworking individuals dedicated to protecting and serving our community,” Jeffries said, “but we have to admit there are still problems.”
De Blasio noted that overall crime dropped in New York City this year, which he credited partially to fewer marijuana arrests and the end of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy.
But, he said, he believes “it is inherently clear [Dr. King] would not be satisfied” with the state of affairs today.
“I know we can create that mutual respect between police and community, and it will not happen overnight, but it will happen,” de Blasio said. “It will happen because we are resolute, because we need it, because we believe in it.
“Remember, when anyone says to you, it can't happen, when anyone tries to dissuade you from positive action, one of the greatest of Dr. King's quotes in my view: ‘The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.’”