The Brooklyn Academy of Music held their annual tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday morning, inviting lawmakers and activists to punctuate a morning of songs and performances with promises to continue King’s work two days after what would have been his 92nd birthday.
Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso served as the event’s master of ceremonies, guiding the audience — who watched in-person and via livestream — through a keynote speech by Dr. Imani Perry and musical performances by Nona Hendryx and gospel choir Sing Harlem.
“The day he died my family sat at the dinner table and held hands and we wept, because we knew that this was a tremendous loss,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul. “It inspired me to realize that his work must carry on, all of us must carry on his work, even decades later, because the work is not finished, my friends, the work is far from finished.”
More than remembering his words, Hochul said, New Yorkers need to examine how they can help each other — especially through the dark and difficult days of the pandemic.
“Why did more Black men and women die from COVID than they should have?” Hochul said. “Why did they not live in an area with quality healthcare that would have lifted them up from that? Why are they still suffering, not having homes at this time? Why are they the hardest ones to find jobs for?”
Racism is a public health crisis, Hochul said, and she has commissioned Mary Bassett, the new commissioner of the state’s health department, to examine significant disparities in healthcare outcomes for Black New Yorkers.
A day after attending a funeral for victims of the horrific fire at a Bronx apartment building, Councilmember Crystal Hudson, who represents parts of north and central Brooklyn, used her speech to remember the victims and push for real change that would have kept the victims and their families safe.
“We were painfully reminded that this is hardly the first time we gather in a house of worship to eulogize Black folks who have unjustly lost their lives,” Hudson said. “Time and time and time again, we gather. We comfort the weary.”
Most of the residents of Twin Parks North, the scene of the Jan. 9 fire, and most of its victims, were Gambian, she said, and had settled in the building after Abdoulie Touray and his family moved in, starting what would become a tight-knit community within the apartment building.
“And as the Imam noted, these 17 victims, ranging in age from two years to 50, would not have died had they not lived in the Bronx, in an apartment building where neglectful landlords have consistently provided insufficient heat during winter months,” Hudson said.
Within the city, she said, calling for just housing and holding neglectful landlords accountable is necessary and a continuation of King’s work. Across the country, she called for more — the abolition of the filibuster and the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
“The legacy of Jim Crow and the deep roots of white supremacy have clearly ignored Dr. King’s call for change,” Hudson said. “Our democracy depends on each of us to actively participate and hold ourselves accountable to its success. It is imperative we answer democracy’s call for help. If we ignore it yet again, we may very well lose our democracy.”
BAM commissioned a filmed performance of “King,” a dance set to his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” which he delivered the day before his assassination in 1968. Choreographed and performed by Kyle Marshall, the performance first premiered in 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s murder.
The tribute was just part of BAM’s programs to honor and remember the historic civil rights activist, accompanying a digital installation, a series of performances by Fist & Heel Performance Group, and a screening of “Attica,” a documentary chronicling a 1971 uprising against guards and prisons at the infamous prison.