‘We are going to live the dream’: New York pols mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Harlem

New York’s highest serving elected officials joined Reverend Al Sharpton in Harlem on Monday to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Day and the enduring legacy of the legendary civil rights leader.

When the National Action Network (NAN) began its MLK Day celebration at about 2 p.m. on Jan. 16, the organization’s leader Reverend Al Sharpton was still in an airplane, jetting back from Washington D.C. after having shared breakfast with President Joe Biden. While Sharpton made his way to Harlem, notable speakers not only tipped their hat to Doctor King, but they also pointed out the importance his message still serves even now in 2023.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries had spoken inside NAN headquarters at 106 West 145th St. many times before, but his rousing speech on Monday afternoon marked his first as House Minority Leader. While Jeffries lauded King for the changes he was able to implement in America’s civil rights movement, Jeffries also took aim at those who he says are endeavoring to undo those progressions.

Hakeem Jeffries.Photo by Dean Moses

“What will we do to meet the challenges of the moment, learning from the life, the legacy, the leadership, the lessons of Dr. King, and we’ve got some challenges. Folks who don’t like the progress that was made. Folks who want to turn back the clock. Haters running all across the land—wickedness in high places. Folks who want to embrace the theoretical Ministry of Martin Luther King Jr., but not his good work. Celebrate him but not elevate the work that he did,” Jeffries exclaimed. 

Jeffries went on to add that while some politicians have praised Dr. King, they fall short of following through with the reverend’s teachings by pushing to take away social benefits, such as affordable housing, Medicare, reproductive freedom, and voting rights. 

“Some folks who go to church and they pray on Sunday, but then they come to Washington DC and they prey — p-r-e-y — prey on the American people. They come to Washington, DC and prey on the American people, prey on the poor, prey on the sick, prey on the afflicted, prey on the least, the lost and the left behind,” Jeffries added.  

Reverend AL Sharpton. Photo by Dean Moses
Governor Kathy Hochul. Presents a proclamation to Reverend Sharpton. Photo by Dean Moses

Reverend Sharpton arrived just after 3 p.m. Monday, in time to introduce Governor Kathy Hochul. Presenting a proclamation to Reverend Sharpton, the governor attributed her work in office to the late Dr. King, stating that it was because of his teachings that she yearned to fight for the rights of the people.

“I’m old enough to remember him when he was still alive. I read a book called ‘Childhood of Famous Americans,’” Governor Hochul said.  “I learned of his assassination—I’ll never forget. Our family, all of us raised in a social justice Catholic family held hands and prayed and wept. Because what would happen to our country without this conscience of America, who called us to be better than we were at that time in our history? But I’ve never lost that. That’s what drew me to public service.”

Mayor Eric Adams .Photo by Dean Moses

Mayor Eric Adams also paid tribute to King. However, he also looked to pay tribute to the fruits of King’s labor. Adams celebrated the Black and Brown men and women who now hold office thanks to the fights King fought, including Adams himself. He applauded heads of major committees, leaders of the Senate, New York City Council, majority of the borough presidents and other city and state roles earned by people of color. 

“So, the real celebration of Dr. King is to say this is what he marched for, this is what our ancestors fought for,” Adams said. “So, we are not just going to think about the dream. We are going to live the dream and we’re going to move our city and country in a direction of where a dream is supposed to take us.”