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Queens Chronicle

Jamaica celebrates Martin Luther King

Speakers: Slain civil rights leader’s work still needs to be continued

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Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 2:25 pm, Thu Jan 30, 2020.

Southeast Queens marked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in both solemn and celebratory fashion Monday afternoon at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center in Jamaica.

More than 300 people attended the annual ceremony sponsored by the office of Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans).

They were treated to music, song and dance from a number of area artists. The keynote speaker was the Rev. Carlton Mobley of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Flushing.

Mobley said he was approached by Miller recently after the councilman had heard him speak at a function — and the invitation to JPCA was not long in coming.

In his talk, he said that while much has been accomplished since King’s assassination in 1968, there was still more to be done.

He said King’s message of racial, social and economic justice still must be pressed forward, placing it in the context of living wages, affordable housing, gentrification and other subjects.

And he was not shy in his pointed criticism of President Trump for the tone he said is being set in Washington and the country.

But he also quoted King — “Remember, he was a Baptist minister,” Mobley said with a proud smile — and the Gospel of Matthew, exhorting the crowd to “love thy enemies” without sacrificing vigilance, perseverance and strength.

“Dr. King called Jesus an extremist for love,” Mobley said. “With love you become an optimist, an idealist, a romantic, a dreamer, a visionary.”

Dawn Cotter-Jenkins served as mistress of ceremonies.

The afternoon opened with some of the younger talent, with Aaralyn Inniss leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, accompanied by the color guard of Boy Scout Troops 263 and 144. Cydnee Alexa Buggs then sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Later on Christine Thomas sang a set of spiritual songs, followed by poet and singer Renee McRae.

Ashley Keiko Chambers played two saxophone solos. Later in the program Nigel Inniss of Joe’s Academy of Music in St. Albans played his sax accompanied by academy co-owner Akeem Headley on piano.

And while the politicians in the audience didn’t outnumber the residents and families of the performers — it was kind of close — Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) was in the house joined by Assistant Commissioner of Correction Faye Yelardy for a rousing duet of “A Change is Gonna Come.”

The song was written by Sam Cooke after the singer, his wife and others were refused admission at a whites-only hotel in Louisiana in late 1963. Cooke would be shot to death two weeks before it was released as a single. Otis Redding also recorded it in 1965.

The final performance of the day was a multimedia presentation in dance, song and video by students from the Edge School of the Arts in Laurelton.

They began with a tribute to Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11, who were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, followed by dancers coming to the stage dressed in period 1960s dresses and hats.

The screen in the background interspersed news clips from the civil rights era with re-creations that filmed students in places around Jamaica and Southeast Queens.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), fresh from the start of Trump’s impeachment hearing, and U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) made their regular appearances at the ceremony, as did Councilmen Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), state Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside), acting Borough President Sharon Lee, District Attorney Melinda Katz and former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

Most of the speakers criticized Trump, a few defended the state’s new bail reform laws, and in the case of Meeks and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), promoted Richards’ candidacy for borough president. Comrie checked himself a bit upon seeing the former councilwoman.

“I love you as a person; not as borough president,” he said.

Out-of-town speakers included Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Additional sponsors of the celebration included BRP Companies, The United Black Men of Queens Foundation, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica and the NAACP Jamaica Branch.

Welcome to the discussion.