Brooklyn power brokers exalt Dr. King on his 94th birthday

Sing Harlem Choir performs onstage during the 37th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York.
Sing Harlem Choir performs onstage during the 37th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo by Elena Olivo

“Is Brooklyn in the house?”

The often solicited question and its response from audiences was evident on the holiday named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when Brooklynites averted the cold by lining up early in the lobby of the Brooklyn Academy of Music to pay tribute to the Civil Rights martyr.

Held in tribute to the 94th anniversary of his birth, the 37th annual celebration lured SRO crowds, elected officials and prominent Brooklyn-born residents to the Howard Gilman Opera House.

The occasion also attracted patrons who packed into a waiting lounge in the lobby area, two hours before the start of the program as VIP guest hob-nobbed with others on the upper level of the landmark venue.

All determined to honor the trailblazer in the borough reputed for hosting the largest tribute event held annually, proud Brooklynites comprised the capacity. Many arrived with anticipation of seeing and hearing reliable elected officials particularly those who represent Kings County.

“Brooklyn is the greatest borough in the City,” Antonio Reynoso, a biased Borough President said. As emcee of the event, he ably interjected anecdotes between introductions to speakers.

To Gov. Kathy Hochul the BP offered chit chat in a private conversation saying “good luck to the Buffalo Bills.”

Allegedly, the state leader responded with diplomacy and fervor saying “and to the Giants.”

Both football teams are in her domain and although her upstate residency might imply partiality to the Bills, she appeased fans of the sport with the response. In her address, the first female elected governor of New York talked about growing up a “white girl from Hamburg, New York.”

She said in her youth she wrote a book report about Dr. King. It was during his lifetime but even then she was fully aware of injustice and the need for equal rights in America.

BP Reynoso, the first Dominican to win the coveted position, seemed particularly enamored introducing the senior senator from the state. Sen. Charles E. Schumer needed no introduction, he was greeted with adulation and applause. A consistent guest speaker at the annual, the Brooklynite is versed in relaying Dr. King’s legacy. Not with-standing in addition to explaining that Dr. King’s “singular and unique” holiday is the only one devoted to an American individual, he also delivered an update reporting the happenings in Washington D.C.

Perhaps the only individual to register a higher decibel of greeting was Cong. Hakeem Jeffries.

The Brookynite and leading Democrat in Congress received a standing ovation from the crowd.

As the first Black to lead the party’s agenda, he was cheered for recently schooling his colleagues using the alphabet for a lesson both political parties benefited. The elected official seemed the beneficiary of a hero’s welcome.

Mayor Eric Adams did not have to prove Brooklyn credibility.

For eight years, the former Brooklyn borough president hosted the event. He arrived after making a border visit to El Paso, Texas where he reportedly stated a case for Federal aid to combat escalating costs caused by the influx of immigrants to NYC.

His spirited message exhorted the audience to change the narrative projected as legacy.

The mayor challenged a number of topics one in which he described a race he said many people of color ran before him. He said they all passed on a baton he now holds. Medgar Evers received the baton, Marcus Garvey, Jesse Jackson, Kamala Harris and others too.

“Last year we allowed people to take our legacy, this will never happen in 2023, we know the baton we hold.”

“Big up Brooklyn!” Laurie Cumbo, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs said in greeting the crowd. Familiar with the boastful audience from previous attendances, the former Brooklyn councilmember was well received by her constituents.

Adrienne Adams is not from Brooklyn. Raised in North Carolina the first Black speaker of the City Council heartened the crowd by admonishing them to follow Black women. She explained her conviction is one she wears on a button pinned to outfits. Citing the contributions made by Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Vice President Kamala Harris and other pioneering Black females, she explained that Dr. King followed the tradition.

“We are the pinnacle of creation.”

Other speakers included Gina Duncan, BAM President, Coco Killingsworth, BAM VP of creative social impact, City Councilmember Crystal Hudson and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, the first Latino elected to the position.

Brooklyn was in vogue but it was the Sing Harlem Choir that rocked the house. Offering gospel renditions that opened and closed the ceremony their rollicking repertoire ended with Dr. King’s anthemic, theme song: “We shall overcome.”

A call to action message from Civil Rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill keynoted an address presented on the anniversary which is also regarded as a Day of Service. According to the veteran advocate the day represents a period of spiritual renewal. She offered staggering statistics reflective of the mindset of a majority of Americans. Her reality checklist also provided reminders of past atrocities endured by people of color. Sobering accounts about the state of the nation seemed to resonate with Brooklynites who watched the virtual broadcast. In assessing the two political parties she said Democrats and Republicans are fighting for different things. One party wants to maintain white supremacy, the other is focused on freedom and justice. Through a carefully explicit presentation she inspired activism and participation. Ifill seemed to jolt the sensibilities of her listeners. To them, she pleaded participation “vote, march, sign up, build, teach, join, …this is our moment, I believe it.”

Music was not in short supply, Canadian Allison Russell added lively lyrical, commentary to the two and half hour presentation. Although her group has been busy singing message songs in Australia and other faraway places, the three time Grammy nominee was front and center on the Brooklyn stage to extend sentiments of “Happy Birthday Dr. King.”

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