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Leaders Call for Community Service and Gun Control on MLK Day

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Yorkers honored the legacy of the late civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in a variety of ways Monday: with volunteer work, special services, conferences and concerts.

At the 25th annual tribute to Dr. King at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, novelist Walter Mosley gave a keynote address about the history of race in America — and his personal journey.

“I am a black man,” said Mosley. “This is the truth. This is a lie. This is an oversimplification. This is a confused notion. This is a declaration of war.”

Mosley was preceded and followed by a who’s-who of local, state and federal politicians. Senator Charles Schumer said Martin Luther King prevailed, then and now, because he forced American society to look at itself: “Dr. King holds a mirror up to this day to each and every one of us — to public officials and to citizens — and asks us to look in that mirror and say, ‘How can we do better?’ ”

Mayor Bloomberg, who's launched a national campaign against illegal guns, said King would be working to "eradicate" gun violence, if he were alive today. He said King's legacy is one of service to others.

"Above all, Dr. King was a man of action. His actions encouraged the actions of so many others, and together, all these individual actions forged a path to a better nation," Bloomberg said. 

Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congresswoman Yvette Clark and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand echoed the mayor's call for gun control. Each also mentioned the recent Arizona shootings. Quinn paraphrased Mavy Stodard, who was shielded from the gunman’s fire by her husband who died.

“He gave his life, so that I could live,” Quinn said, summarizing Stodard’s words at her husband’s funeral Sunday. “And it will be very hard to go on without him. But I have to honor what he did, and live my life to its fullest, as he wanted me to do.”

Quinn said it was in this spirit that Americans need to soldier on more than 40 years after King’s assassination — persevering in an effort to be worthy of his vision.

Some of the loudest applause of the day went to Schumer, quoting Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” about why people should ignore those who advise going slow and waiting.

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait,'" King wrote. The long passage Schumer read concludes, “When you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”  

Schumer wrapped up by extolling: "Dr. King’s words were true then. Dr. King’s words are true now. Let us redouble our efforts to make this country the country he wanted it to be."

But the largest and longest standing ovation of the day went to Mosley, who ended his speech with a call to end racism and oppression — a feat, he said, that would not come easily and one he said would fall mostly to those who call themselves white.

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