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Black History Month kicks off in Brooklyn courts

February 2, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Kings County Courts kicked off Black History Month with an opening ceremony on Monday that featured keynote speaker Marc H. Morial. Pictured from left: Hon. Deborah Dowling; Marc Morial; Hon. Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge for Criminal Matters; and Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for Civil Matters. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

To say that Black History Month for the Kings County Court system is a big deal would be an understatement, as a month’s worth of events began with an opening ceremony at the Kings County Supreme Court on Monday afternoon.

The court’s ceremonial courtroom was decorated to the theme of, “Sites of the African American Experience in New York City,” as dozens of judges, lawyers and court employees packed the court to listen to keynote speaker Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League.

“The African-American experience in this nation is deep and varied and, quite frankly, fraught with both pain and injustice,” said Hon. Lawrence Knipel in his opening remarks. “It’s essential for us, all of us as a nation, to remember and reflect upon the African-American historical experience and to maintain eternal vigilance against the curse of racism and other corrosive isms.”

The ceremony was rich with history and culture as David Porter & Company were brought in to play music, Rev. Dr. David L. Kelly II gave the invocation and Rev. Ronnelle Thomas-Brunswick sang the Black National Anthem. Hon. Genine Edwards served as the mistress of ceremonies. Other speakers included Hon. Matthew D’Emic; Arthur Aidala, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association; and Helene Blank, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association. Deborah Dowling made the introductions.

“How can you encapsulate a distinguished career spanning more than 25 years?” Dowling asked, referring to Morial. “Some of the words that come to mind are entrepreneur, lawyer, professor, legislator, former mayor, former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, pres. and CEO of the National Urban League, the nation’s largest historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization.”

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In his speech, Morial answered a question that has been debated recently on the 24-hour news networks — why do we celebrate Black History Month?

“To celebrate BHM is not to suggest that the contributions of any other ethnic group, any other race or group of people, is less or should be diminished,” Morial said. “The idea is that as African-Americans, we want to celebrate the contributions that have been made. Not only the contributions, but the struggles and the triumphs of overcoming great difficulties in this country.

“But we should also celebrate the contributions of those of Italian descent, of Irish descent, Asian descent and those who come from Central and South America, because only if we understand the contributions that our own ancestors have made and the contributions of others can we say that we are on the journey of a fair, equal and just America.”

The Black History Month Committee also gave out two awards —  a Distinguished Service Award to Morial and a Special Achievement Award to Hon. Reginald Boddie.

“I would like to dedicate this award in the memory of my mother, a civil rights legend in her own right,” Boddie said. “She was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit known as Boddie v. the State of Connecticut, which lead to fee waivers, as we know them today, that provide access to the indigent in the courts throughout the United States.”

The ceremony was just the first of 11 Black History Month events that the courts plan to host this month, including an Abolition in Brooklyn presentation at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Feb. 23. The month will wrap up with the famous Closing Program Fashion Show that features many of the judges and court employees.

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