“Inequality does not exist in a vacuum”
Annual NAN celebration held to honor Dr. King
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
At the National Action Network’s (NAN) House of Justice on West 145th Street on Mon., Jan. 20th, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored with a promise that the “Tale of Two Cities” would have a happy ending.
The annual NAN tribute drew elected officials from across the city and state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was accompanied by First Lady Chirlane McCray.
“When we think of Dr. King, we think of the greatest apostle of social justice this country has ever seen,” said the Mayor, who again sounded out themes of social injustice he’d first raised during his campaign.
“Inequality takes from us what we value so deeply. It closes doors to people who deserve better.”
Mayor de Blasio said that among the inequalities that need to be addressed were providing paid sick leave and improved access to health care; ensuring universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs; and fixing a “broken” stop-and-frisk policy.
“This will be a city that rises together,” he said.
First Lady Chirlane McCray took the opportunity to announce that Rachel Noerdlinger, a longtime aide to Rev. Al Sharpton, would serve as her Chief of Staff, a decision lauded by the event host.
“No one has made us prouder than Rachel Noerdlinger,” said Rev. Sharpton. “No one has worked harder than Rachel Noerdlinger.”
Mayor de Blasio had often spoken of his partnership with his wife, who advised him on appointees and will play a role in shaping his agenda for the city.
“We will make this city rise together, worthy of Dr. King’s memory,” she said, echoing her husband’s words.
Many present, including 82-year-old Congressman Charles Rangel, had been arrested earlier that day for civil disobedience after protesting low wages earned by Port Authority workers. Protesters had blocked the 94th Street Bridge to La Guardia airport in Flushing, Queens.
“If we do something each and every day, we keep the dream alive for all of us,” said Congressman Charles Rangel.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had also been arrested.
“We’re going to head in a new direction that addresses the needs of all people in this city, not just a select few,” she said. “Inequality does not exist in a vacuum; it is structural.”
Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James, the first African-American woman to be elected to city-wide office, agreed.
“We have got to work on income inequality stagnation,” she said. “Dr. King would have marched against income inequality.”
Public Advocate James urged civic action not just on the holiday but throughout the year to fight for Dr. King’s ideals.
“Dr. King’s dream has to be more than a speech. Dr. King’s dream has to be more than a statue,” she said. “Dr. King’s dream has to be more than a day.”
Other speakers focused on complacency as the enemy of Dr. King’s dream.
Rev. Michael Waldron of the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem used excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches to drive the point home.
“You begin to die that day you are silent about things that matter,” he said.
“From the looks of us, there are many people today in our community who are dying,” he added, drawing a loud chorus of “Amen” from the large crowd.
Many had waited in line for hours to get in.
Alouwa Slack, a midwife, attended because she wanted an opportunity to see the newly elected officials.
“We have a new administration. I wanted to hear what they’re going to be doing.”
She was particularly excited to see Chirlane McCray.
“She seems quite real,” she remarked.
Flat Eagle, who has been a member of NAN for many years, listened to the speeches after time spent on a long line.
The annual conversation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is valuable, he said. Eagle said he attends rallies year round to help advance Dr. King’s ideals.
“We’re talking about growth in the country,” he said. “We have to build to makes things better.”