When a woman in the third row at the Brooklyn Academy of Music took a knee during the singing of the national anthem on the day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it clued the audience that the 32nd annual tribute was going to be significant and memorable.
It was both and became more evident after some of the titans of Kings County paid tribute to the legacy left by Dr. King on the holiday named in his honor when they focused on the current state of the union after one year led by President Donald Trump.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams dutifully served as master of ceremonies inviting Eric Gonzalez, the borough’s district attorney, Sen. Charles Schumer, the senior state senator, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, all Brooklynites, powerbrokers and stakeholders who in addition to praising King opined about the current state of national politics.
The mayor offered encouragement and hope for the future, the top prosecutor reported on his trailblazing role as the very first district attorney in New York to hire an immigration lawyer and Sen. Schumer — who has only missed one of the annual tributes held at the landmark venue — harkened back to a song by the Shirelles saying that “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.”
The packed venue reverberated as the familiar lyrics echoed throughout the crowds singing the catchy verse.
Sen. Schumer’s most poignant statement though was his annual reading of Dr. King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” which the Civil Rights detailed during confinement in the racist, southern environment about why Blacks will not wait for justice.
“Trump, we will not wait for justice” the minority leader of the US Senate ended his reading.
He received a rousing applause for his mandate.
However, as entertaining, poignant and relevant as the senator’s admonition, a caution illustrated by the borough’s president added urgency to political action.
Adams presented three images of magnified playing cards from a 52-card deck. They were the Queens of clubs, hearts and spades. He said he had once lost $100 on a three-card Monty sleight of hand trick he said he has never forgotten or forgiven but was sure the trickster might not recall.
He likened the trickster to President Trump.
His technique, Adams claimed is distraction.
According to the borough president “Donald Trump is playing three-card Monty — he has us so busy we are missing” the winning card.
Adams said the argument about North Korea and other Twitter feeds are only distractions.
“It’s a game he wants you focused on.”
“He says craziness to distract you,” Adams said.
His sobering comments resonated with many insulted by the recent anti-immigration quote the president made about Haitians and Africans.
It registered with teachers, attorneys, nurses, transit workers, mothers, sons and daughters, fathers and grandparents, students, maintenance workers, and voters – many disappointed with the direction the country might be headed.
And his parody using blown-up playing cards showing the Queen lingered long past the end of the ceremony with likely future kings of the borough.
Author Jelani Cobb, keynoted the event emphasizing how Haiti’s liberation from France frightened European colonizers.
“Haiti sent shockwaves of fear that led to America’s independence.”
Cobb said it was a fact history has left out in history books.
He asked Haitians in the audience to stand.
About Trump’s Africa snub, Cobb said “No one can talk about freedom” without acknowledging that “Africa provided the labor that built America.”
Other speakers who took to the stage included Katy Clark, BAM president, Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand, City Council speaker Cory Johnson, Laurie Cuumbo, Councilwoman and Majority Leader.
Councilwoman Cuumbo praised women who have achieved despite pervasive unlevel playing fields.
She hailed the #MeToo Movement for enabling women to rid themselves of guilt and shame.
“Women run the world,” she said.
She also said: “the need for a woman to be president is crucial.”
About her workplace she added “There are 51 council seats only 11 are women.”
She also hailed men.
“Men are so much more dynamic under the leadership of women.”
Throughout the program, a super-sized image of Dr. King stared off-stage.
Native American singer Martha Redbone backed by a six-member ensemble and two singers provided roots and gospel renderings that stirred the audience with handclapping and thunderous applause.
Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir also delivered spirited and inspirational songs.
Spike Lee’s 1997 film — “Four Little Girls”— completed the day’s offering.
The film retraces the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of a church in Alabama where four little, Black girls were killed. Dr. King eulogized the funeral.