Monday was not only the nation's 57th presidential inauguration reinstating President Barack Obama as the leader of the free world, but it was a day which freedom has particularly been remembered and memorialized in the United States.
In addition to a live stream of our country’s first black president’s second ceremonial inauguration, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) was filled to capacity as it held the 27th annual Brooklyn Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.
With music from the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir and Kindred, The Family Soul, a contemporary R&B and neo-soul group from Washington D.C, the celebration of King’s life and movement was felt throughout the Peter Jay Sharp Building in Downtown Brooklyn.
Harry Belafonte, renowned actor, singer, songwriter and confidant of King during the civil rights movement, was the keynote speaker of the occasion.
“This is a very interesting time,” Belafonte reflected in a raspy, prophetic tenor. “It is also today, a solemn day for me. Martin Luther King and I were the closest of friends. He came and asked me to serve for him as an advisor, as a strategist and as a companion in a journey that he had accepted for himself that troubled him.
“Not of the idea that he should lead people that deterred him,” he continued, but “it was how and where he would lead them to.”
Belfonte looked at the progress the country has made in civil rights since the movement that King led nearly 50 years ago, explaining the work laid out is only a framework for what can be done in the future.
“We went to Washington, and stayed on the steps of the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and all through the mall; placed ourselves fully and squarely in the heart of the city, and to never leave until we were given reasons for our grievance,” Belafonte said. “He saw that America, as he said, ‘has lost its moral compass.’”
He cited Obama’s predecessor, George H.W. Bush, as the leader of a disconnected America that he and King fought to prevent, and looked to the people and future leaders to steer back on to the right path.
“That president had led us to a moral abyss,” he proclaimed of Bush. “He had betrayed this country, he had betrayed the people, he had betrayed us morally and spiritually and led us to a war that was not only unrighteous, but it was illegal.”
In addition to Belafonte, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Deputy Borough President Sandra Chapman, BAM President Karen Brooks, Medgar Evers College President Dr. William Pollard, and others spoke of hope and faith for the future of the country.
While Markowitz took to the stage shouting his love for the borough, he also expressed his hatred for programs like stop and frisk, noting there is still a need for change and progress.
“This year is particularly momentous,” Markowitz said of Obama’s second swearing-in ceremonies, which were streamed live at the event. “In his second term he is free to fully pursue an even more historic agenda, just like his first term which will forever be remembered for passing the Affordable Health Care Act, his second term will be remembered for the end of America’s love affair with guns.”
Dr. Pollard, in his fourth year as president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, spoke the words of King in retrospect of his own generation, calling on them to remember and teach the youth of the coming generations.
“Martin Luther King said, ‘Cowardness asked the question, is it safe; expediency asked the question, is it politic; vanity asked the question, is it popular; but conscious asked, is it right and there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular, but one must take it because it’s right,'” Pollard narrated.
“I ask you to step up, and say what needs to be said to get the changes we need for our students, our families and our community,” he said.