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Brooklyn Academy of Music honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s 88th birthday

Speakers Declare Looming Trump Inauguration Makes Dr King’s Message More Timely Than Ever Before

January 17, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Audience members in BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House enjoy gospel-themed songs performed by the Institutional Radio Choir. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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“We’ve been deputized by history,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio as he stood at the podium of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. “We gather at a moment when we’re all feeling so much.”

The moment was Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) 31st celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, what would have been the day after the civil rights leader’s 88th birthday. Billed as “New York City’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration,” the morning opened with gospel-themed songs and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by BAM’s own Institutional Radio Choir.

BAM President Katy Clark started her remarks by reminding the audience of the day’s significance: “Each year this celebration provides us with the opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s struggle for human rights and equality.”

Inevitably, the event was overshadowed by the results of the recent presidential election and impending inauguration. “We cannot help but consider recent events in the context of Dr. King’s message. The future will require our vigilance and renewed efforts to protect the hard-earned rights that exist for us all,” Clark continued on.

“Preparing ourselves for battle is good,” added de Blasio. “It’s a sad statement that we might now have a small window into some of the challenges he [Dr. King] faced.” De Blasio closed his remarks by inviting people to gather at Columbus Circle Thursday, Jan. 19, on the last night of President Barack Obama’s term. “Join with us as we prepare for the great battle for the soul of this nation!”

“We have to prevent them from turning the clock back to the 1950s, or even the 1890s!” declared Sen. Chuck Schumer. “I am ready for the fight!” Schumer went on to vow his support for the Affordable Care Act (key portions of which the U.S. Senate had already voted to rescind), and promised to oppose confirmation of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

“If you want to help protect the Affordable Care Act,” advised NYC first lady Chirlane McCray, “please, go out and get covered. The more people that get covered, the more difficult it will be for Congress to take it away.”

Only once during the event was the president-elect mentioned by name. “We’re going to out-Trump Trump!” declared Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams after describing the genesis of white, middle- and working-class anger that grew in the wake of Obama’s 2008 victory. “This election went to the most dedicated and organized group. But we didn’t elect a dictator. We elected a person who only has a four-year run, baby!”

Speakers that followed, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, all referenced the president-elect as though he were the principle antagonist in the Harry Potter saga, a villain whose very name pained the listener’s ears — Voldemort.

The day’s keynote speaker, Black Lives Matter co-founder and community organizer Opal Tometi, said, “I know that I personally need the wisdom of Dr. King now more than ever.” Tometi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, founded Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Patrice Cullors after learning of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013.

“It is not enough,” she continued. “To commemorate Dr. King we must emulate him!”

Since its founding, initially as the Twitter hashtag #blacklivesmatter, the movement has gained adherents, prompting demonstrations, rallies and marches in cities all across the U.S. Many conservatives, especially those who supported the president-elect, have denounced it as a form of counter-racism or Black supremacy.

“On the heels of Dr. King’s birthday, and just ahead of Black History Month,” Tometi pointed out, “the United States will be inaugurating its most unpopular, unqualified candidate.”

“That’ll be the next four years!” a woman from the audience called out.

“Not on my watch!” Tometi shot back.


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