Harlem Week celebrates the life of the first black NYC mayor David Dinkins

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A laundry list of elected officials gathered for Harlem Week’s celebration of David Dinkins.
Photo by Dean Moses

The Schomburg Center in Harlem played a night of dedication and memory to the late former Mayor David Dinkins on Aug. 12. 

A part of Harlem Week, the celebration of the Big Apple’s first black mayor was a hybrid of virtual and in-person speakers singing Dinkins’ praises on stage and cinema screen. Akin to a movie premiere with stars walking the red carpet, prominent elected officials and civil rights activists arrived to share their memories of a man they believe does not receive enough credit for his contributions.

Serving as a dedication mecca, the Schomburg Center saw the likes of Democratic Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, former Governor David Paterson, Reverend Al Sharpton, and many more. Prior to the event commencing proper, the arriving public figures spoke to the media, excitedly remembering a man who was recognized as a cultural icon.

“The greatest thing about him is how well he received people. The environment around him was always one of service and he, just as a human being, got along with everybody. He must have gone to every event that was ever held anywhere. In fact even though this event is for him I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw him,” former Governor Paterson said, gushing about Dinkins.

Presented by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the gala showered attendees with glasses of wine and Hors d’oeuvres before guests were whisked to the facility for research in black culture’s very own cinema. Here an amalgamation of live and pre-recorded speeches honored Dinkins who passed away in 2020.

“He put black folks and Harlem on the map historically,” former Congressman Charles Rangel said.

Former Congressman Charles Rangel greets Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Photo by Dean Moses
Congress member Adriano Espaillat arrives to the gala. Photo by Dean Moses

Civil rights leaders Hazel Dukes and Sharpton also praised Dinkins for his leadership, as well as speeches from those who could not make the occasion, such as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James were played on the movie screen.

Viewers were also treated to a live performance from Elijah Ahmad Lewis, star of Ain’t Too Proud, who sang several songs from the Broadway show and wowed onlookers in the process. 

With current Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams hoping to follow in Dinkins footsteps and become the second Black mayor, he shared just how much the 106th head of city means to him and the community as a whole.

Former Governor David Paterson and Al Sharpton watch the commemorative showcase. Photo by Dean Moses
Al Sharpton address the crowd. Photo by Dean Moses

“It is extremely significant that he was mayor in our city and really laid the foundation that we stood on—it is David Dinkins. His safe city, safe streets initiative other people benefited from. History was not kind to him, crime was dropping under his administration, our economy was recovering under his administration, the few tragic incidents that took place and I don’t believe we really allowed him to have a second term,” Adams said. “He was not only a good mayor, he was a friend, he was a mentor for me and a mentor for my son, and he just loved young people and inspired them so I am happy to be here and to show my respect for a man I really appreciate.”

Mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo by Dean Moses

Adams credits many lessons learned through Dinkins’ mentorship and hopes to make a historic path of his own if elected mayor. 

“This is about how you build a legacy. Winners want the ball when the game is on the line. The game is on the line, I want the ball in my hand because I’m not going to drop it. I’m going to make the city proud,” Adams said. 

Elijah Ahmad Lewis, star of Ain’t Too Proud, entertained the crowd with musical renditions. Photo by Dean Moses
Charles Rangel was impressed with Elijah Ahmad Lewis’ performance. Photo by Dean Moses