Elected officials and civil rights leaders commemorated the first Martin Luther King Jr. day of the COVID-19 pandemic with the celebration of a new United States president and the condemnation of the Capitol riots.
Jan. 18 marked the iconic activist’s 92nd birthday and although the novel coronavirus virus is still wreaking havoc on New York and vaccine supplies are running in short supply, those at Harlem’s National Action Network (NAN) could not allow the holiday to pass without acknowledging Dr. King’s legacy and teachings during one of the most turbulent times in the United States’ 244 year lifetime.
Broadcasting through NAN’s Facebook page and employing rigorous temperature checks and social distancing measures, this event incorporated a laundry list of distinguished speakers commending Dr. King for his unparalleled strides in the civil rights movement. It was a day-long affair, with the morning beginning with an MLK virtual Award Ceremony and following several hours of speeches.
Every year, for the past 30 years, NAN has hosted annual MLK Day celebrations and public policy forums with elected officials to discuss racial and social justice policies. The ceremony was kicked-off Monday afternoon with some pre-recorded words from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stressed the importance of the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. Soon thereafter Rev. Al Sharpton took to the stage where the long-time activist spoke about King’s achievements.
“Dr. King was not in history because he was some poet with a dream sitting on the side of the mountain. Dr. King was an activist. He changed public policy. He changed laws. We don’t want to hear nice sanitized stories about Dr. King when we are in the middle of a pandemic that was disproportionately impacting our community,” Rev. Al Sharpton said.
“We are ending, in 48 hours, the most bigoted and racist presidential term in our lifetime,” he added. “History will say that Dr. King’s dream survived because Trump will be sandwiched between the first black president and the first black female vice president.”
Rev. Al Sharpton joyfully acknowledged that democrats have taken the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives before welcoming Senator Chuck Schumer, stating that the sun is shining now that his friend will be the majority leader starting Jan. 20th.
Schumer recounted the destructive acts that occurred on Jan. 6th as one of the darkest moments in American history. However, he is hopeful that justice will prevail.
Reiterating Dr. King’s words, Schumer said, “The arc of history bends in the direction of justice, it did in Georgia!” adding, “We are bending that arc in the direction of justice and we will continue to fight in Dr. King’s name to bend it.”
Schumer also made a point to acknowledge that Dr. King is remembered for standing up and showing America it’s cruel and racist reflection.
“He took a giant mirror and he hoisted it on his broad, strong shoulders and with his eloquence and with his faith, with his brilliance, he forced America to look into that mirror, and America didn’t like what it saw. It began a slow, tough inextricable road to bringing equality in America. That is how great Dr. King was,” Schumer said.
MLK’s legacy continues with his son, who is co-chairing Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign. Yang follows many of Dr. King’s policies, such as guaranteed minimum income. “We all know that Martin Luther King Jr. was no dreamer. He was an activist fighting for his people, fighting to abolish racism. It is up to us, the people of New York City, to make his vision a reality,” Yang said.
Still, no matter how far the country has progressed since segregation and Jim Crow laws of the 1950s and 1960s, there is no arguing that the United States has also fallen extraordinarily far from its progressive throne. The world watched in horror on Wednesday, Jan. 6 as the west’s symbol of democracy was perverted into a battleground on which a war was fought to prevent the democratic process from continuing as it has done for over two centuries. This infamous riot almost served as a twisted version of the peaceful march to Washington D.C that King led back in August 1963, when about 250,000 people peacefully gathered at Lincoln Memorial to bring awareness to the racism and inequality in America.
In the wake of this attack, it has since become known that some police officers and firefighters took part in the invasion. With this in mind–along with the NYPD’s brutal reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that the efforts being made to combat systemic racism in uniform service. The announcement of the “Discipline Matrix” will hold officers, and those in public service, accountable for their actions.
“Let’s be clear on this King Day, that there is no room for any racist in public service. They need to be gone. There is no room for white supremacists in public service or in any uniform anywhere in America,” de Blasio said.
He emphasized that this is the time to make those who wear a uniform to live by a higher standard. The Mayor held a booklet in his hands and said, “Anyone who wears a uniform and does the wrong thing needs to understand the consequences will be real and swift.”
On Friday, the New York City Police Department Disciplinary System Penalty Guidelines were published and made effective to hold officers accountable for their actions. “This is a new day and a new reality for the NYPD. This says if you commit an offense here’s exactly what is going to happen to you,” de Blasio said.
Rev. Al Sharpton also made an announcement at the event that NAN got Spectrum to provide a $1.5 million deposit, so that loans can be given to communities of color to start businesses.
“Carver has been around for more than 72 years and our mission is strong in terms of supporting economic empowerment for women and minority business entrepreneurs,” said Michael T. Pugh, the President and CEO of Carver Bank in New York.
Carver Bank’s mission is to create economic empowerment and support people of color and minorities. They believe that in order to generate wealth, it is oftentimes passed down through ownership, whether that is ownership through a home or business.