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Brooklyn Civil Court highlights problems of Voting Rights Act for Black History Month

February 26, 2019 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Kings County Civil Court held its annual Black History Month celebration at the courthouse on Friday where it welcomed the girls from the Zeta Phi Beta sorority as part of the festivities.

The event’s theme followed the national Black History Month theme of “Black Migrations,” which Supervising Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo spoke about. Four students were also tasked with answering the question — have the U.S. and its citizens met the goal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

“I love this year’s theme of BHM, Black Migrations,” said Judge Walker-Diallo. “I love to hear the stories of people who have immigrated to this nation to seek better opportunities for themselves and their children. I think we often forget the stories of African Americans, my ancestors, who have been here for centuries.

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From left: Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, the supervising judge of the Brooklyn Civil Court, Hon. Harriet Thompson and Hon. Ingrid Joseph.

“In fact, 2019 marks the 400th year since the first enslaved African arrived on these shores so it’s fitting that this year’s theme pays homage to those who escaped the brutality of Jim Crow, the oppression, segregation and discrimination of the South and other areas of this country so that their children, which includes yours truly, can have better opportunities,” Judge Walker-Diallo continued.

Judge Walker-Diallo shared a bit of her family history in her speech, her father a musician from the Mississippi Delta, who traveled to Brooklyn after his life was threatened, and her mother from North Carolina, who came to Brooklyn to care for a sick family member.

From left: Hon. Robin S. Garson, Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, Hon. Cenceria Edwards, Hon. Ingrid Joseph, Hon. Connie Mallafre Melendez, Hon. Richard J. Montelione and Hon. Lisa Ottley.

“As a child growing up in East New York and the Marcy Houses, my parents encouraged me and forced me to keep my eyes on the prize and I give that same instruction to you young people here today,” said Judge Walker-Diallo. “The only limits you have are those you place on yourself. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you, where you’re from, what skin you’re in, what gender you’re in, whatever.”

Judge Walker-Diallo was speaking to a group of high school girls who are members of Zeta Phi Beta, the SKZ Chapter of the Archonette Club. Two girls from that group, Zyir Hester and Arielle McLean, served as the masters of ceremonies for the event. Four others, Jioma McLaughlin, Jasira Watson Brewster, Aliyah Mayers and Ketura McQueen, participated in the 2019 Zora Neale Hurston Oratorical Contest.

The four girls were asked to answer the question — have the U.S. and its citizens met the goal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Their answer is a resounding, no.

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Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo is the supervising judge of the Civil Court.

“Georgia continues to prove that racially discriminatory voting practices exist within the core of their government structure,” said McLaughlin, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School. “The person in charge of determining eligible voters is running in the election under the Republican ticket. That sounds like a conflict of interest to me.”

Another took issue with the U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, where the court ruled that a portion of the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary because, as Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision, it had already accomplished its goals and was no longer needed.

Jioma McLaughlin.

“This decision opened the floodgates for even more restrictive voting laws as it rendered inoperable Section 5, which requires states and local governments with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal preclearance before implementing changes to their voting laws,” said Mayers, a junior at Achievement First Brooklyn High School. “Within 24 hours of the court’s ruling, states like Mississippi, Texas and Alabama began to enforce strict voter ID laws.”

Jasia Watson Brewster.

After the speeches, Justice Robin Sheares was joined by Hon. Cenceria Edwards, Hon. Lisa Ottley, Hon. Deborah Dowling and Leah Richardson in presenting each of the girls with certificates for their efforts. Justice Sheares is the co-chair of the Civil Court Black History Month Committee along with co-chair Tyedanita McLean.

“Since the beginning of the month, Judge Edwards and Judge Ottley and I got a chance to listen to all 20 of the girls’ speeches,” Justice Sheares said. “They were very, very strong speeches. We narrowed it down to 10 and then to the four best, but they were all great speeches. You should have seen them up there doing their thing.”


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