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Brooklyn Family Court focuses on the family during Black History Month program

February 27, 2019 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Kings County Family Court held its annual Black History Month celebration at the courthouse on Tuesday where it hosted Hon. Delores Thomas as this year’s keynote speaker.

“Today our theme is Black Migrations,” said Judge Ben Darvil, one of the co-chairs of the Family Court’s Black History Month Committee. “You will hear about the thousands and thousands of African Americans who left the South for cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia. You’ll hear about when and why they moved, the seismic shifts of our country’s demographics starting from 1915 and ending in about 1970.”

Marleen Jasper, who starred in the Tribune Society’s Black History Month event earlier this month, spoke a bit about the history of black migration in the United States. She was followed by Wayne Alleyne, who read the poem, “The Land of Hope.” and then Hon. Melody Glover, another BHM Committee co-chair, presented four students from the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice — Amirr Christiani, Jaden Henry, Esther Lendore and Alex Rodriguez — with awards for winning an essay contest.

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“For the nearly six million African Americans who migrated out of the rural South, terror and financial relief were the landmarks of their journey,” Jasper said. “The first phase of the movement took families North and Midwest, and then families went from the Midwest towards Western cities. These cities experienced the greatest influx of Southern Blacks.”

Justice Thomas, who was the first person of color to be elected as a judge countywide in Brooklyn when she joined the Civil Court bench in 2000, talked about her own migration from Alabama to Brooklyn.

Justice Thomas explained that her family were tenement farmers, who worked another person’s land, but owned their livestock, grain and crops they produced. She worked on the farm for extra money, but she preferred and insisted on going to school full time so she didn’t work on the farm as often as her siblings and cousins.

She explained that many members of her family had already migrated to the North because of their limited economic opportunities, but that she stayed in the South and eventually went to law school at the University of Georgia. When she couldn’t find work after law school, Justice Thomas also moved north to Brooklyn.

“Several months after, I was hired by South Brooklyn Legal Services,” Thomas said. “I focused on representing low income tenants in Landlord and Tenant Court. When I went to court, it didn’t matter how expensive my suit was, or how professional I looked. When approaching a clerk or an officer, the first question I got was, ‘Ma’am, where is your attorney?’”

Her entire family moved north by 1996 because they were forced off of their land when they registered to vote and demonstrated to integrate the high school.

After the justice told her story, three court employees, Emmanuel Ntiamoah, Fredericka Bashir and Rhonda Weir, each took a turn telling the story of their own family’s migration.

“Even though we moved north, things weren’t necessarily safer,” said Bashir. “Jim Crow was codified in the South, but that didn’t mean things were different, but there were no opportunities for African Americans in the South.”

“Our stories are unique to us and our families and at the same time they transcend, they capture parts of the experience that were shared by so many,” said Hon. Jacqueline D. Williams, the chair of the Family Court Black History Month Committee. “Since we are the Family Court, we always try to make a twist of our programs to bring in a sense of family.”

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