NEW YORK—The life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Monday. It was BAM’s 28th annual celebration, but this year it held new significance. The newly elected Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, was the master of ceremonies—the first black Brooklyn Borough president in the city’s history.
“I know some of you are going through separation anxiety that you lost Marty Markowitz,” he said to a packed house. “I will never be able to fill his shoes, but I’m going to bring my own pair and I’m going to walk a great distance.”
He introduced a range of speakers from leaders in government to activists and educators, all with roots in New York City.
Hakeem Jeffries, a black congressman representing New York’s 8th District in Brooklyn and Queens recalled one of MLK’s most quoted sayings, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
“I think what Dr. King was saying is that in this world we got some good folks and some rough folks. And in Washington I see that everyday,” he said. “But in order for progress to be made, all you need is a few good folks to work hard, sacrifice, dedicate themselves to the cause of making a difference, and at the end of the day, justice will prevail.”
In his campaign Mayor Bill de Blasio portrayed himself as one of those “good folks” who would transform the city to create a place where everyone has an opportunity.
De Blasio reiterated his commitment to closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor, ensuring quality community health care for all New Yorkers, stopping the controversial stop-question-and-frisk policy, and introducing full-day universal pre-K in the city.
“And by doing that, New York will be a city worthy of Dr. King’s memory,” said de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray, the city’s black first lady.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 85 on Jan.15 if it were not for an assassin’s bullet that took his life in 1968.
He was standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tenn., when he was shot in the face by a man named Lloyd Jowers. The young leader was just 39 years old.
In 1983, after a groundswell of public support, Martin Luther King Day become a national holiday, and is now nationally recognized on the third Monday in January every year.
Forty-six years later, he is one of three people to have a federal holiday dedicated to himself, and one of four non-presidents to have a memorial in Washington D.C. He is the only black person in both of those categories.
Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York.