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Brooklyn clergy preach census participation and economic empowerment for Black History Month

February 27, 2020 Paul Frangipane
Members of local Brooklyn clergy sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at a celebration of Black History Month at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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A meeting of local clergy leaders at Borough Hall on Thursday morning celebrated Black History Month by paying respect to black trailblazers and stressing the urgency of census participation and economic empowerment.

The clergy breakfast was organized and moderated  by Pastor Gilford Monrose, Director of Clergy and Faith Initiatives at Borough Hall. He used the backdrop of embracing faith to stimulate conversations on topics of census involvement and economic empowerment, and how they relate to black history and a future for people of all faiths.

Dennis Rahiim Watson of the Black Men Against Gun Violence Task Force gave a motivational speech. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Dennis Rahiim Watson of the Black Men Against Gun Violence Task Force gave a motivational speech. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Rev. Dr. David Allen of Bethel Tabernacle, AME Church in Weeksville invoked abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s quote, “Present but absent,” implying the need to not only be present in church, but to avoid being absent in facing the myriad issues of the community.

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“People within our communities, they are present, but they are absent,” Allen said.

“They will be present for our discussion of the census — the importance of being counted — but they will be absent, because of lack of information, because they are not informed, when the census taker comes around ” he said. “We have the responsibility of letting them feel they must be present and counted.”

Director of Clergy and Faith Initiatives at Brooklyn Borough Hall Pastor Gilford Monrose addresses a room full of local clergy. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Director of Clergy and Faith Initiatives at Brooklyn Borough Hall Pastor Gilford Monrose addresses a room full of local clergy. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

In the next two weeks, everyone in the country with an address with receive a mailer inviting them to participate in the census. Its count determines $675 billion in federal funding and can affect things like local infrastructure, housing and transportation for the next 10 years.

The event was equal parts musical, as clergy members took part in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the black national anthem, and Dennis Rahim Watson, chair of the Black Men Against Gun Violence Task Force, sang and danced during his motivational speech, as he drew upon familiar and beloved words from the Temptations, the Drifters and others.

Rev. Dr. Dave Allen of Bethel Tabernacle AME Church speaks to a crowd of local clergy members at a Black History Month event at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Rev. Dr. Dave Allen of Bethel Tabernacle AME Church speaks to a crowd of local clergy members at a Black History Month event at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Rev. Que English, a representative of Governor Cuomo, engaged the crowd in Borough Hall ceremonial Courtroom in a speech centered on the word “imagine.”

“Imagine the possibilities of seeing the restoration of black wealth, imagine the possibilities of reigniting the desire in our hearts to see black Wall Street again restored,” English said. “Not only do we need to imagine, but we actually have to take action to experience the difference, and it doesn’t have to be confined to a month each year.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams addresses a room full of local clergy at an event celebrating Black History Month on Feb. 27, 2020. Adams stressed the importance of keeping the soul healthy and sharing humanity with community members. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams addresses a room full of local clergy at an event celebrating Black History Month on Feb. 27, 2020. Adams stressed the importance of keeping the soul healthy and sharing humanity with community members. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

English urged the audience to sign up for the governor’s office’s grant program, which made $25 million available to eligible houses of worship that have found themselves vulnerable to hate crimes. Rev. English pointed to various members of her staff who attended, including grant writers ready to assist those who wished to participate.

After a powerfully-rendered classic spiritual hymn by Brianna Sheriff left the audience breathless, Borough President Eric Adams, notoriously a vegetarian, took the podium and noted, “We are often offered junk sounds to be taken in our ears, like junk food is taken in through our mouths. But what we just heard was pure broccoli and kale!”

Borough President Eric Adams poses for a photo with local clergy members at a Black History Month event at Borough Hall. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Borough President Eric Adams poses for a photo with local clergy members at a Black History Month event at Borough Hall. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

In addition to providing the celebratory setting, Borough President Eric Adams spoke on what he believes is necessary on a community level going forward.

“The real movement I feel we need in this city is not to be caught up in the rhetoric on a national level. I’m not as worried about Donald Trump today as I’m worried about, who are we going to be at the end of these years of this presidency?” Adams said. “All we can do as we exist in this chapter of our history is to make sure that no matter how the chapter starts out, it can conclude with a happy ending.”


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