Early Friday morning July 15th, 2022, as I was doing my morning walk. I received two phone calls almost simultaneously from the Reverend Al Sharpton and Nayaba Arinde, Editor of the Amsterdam News. They started the conversation with, “Have you heard?...” I knew what the next sentence would be -- Assemblyman Al Vann had made his transition. I thanked them and continued my walk. This time much longer as I had many memories to ponder. When I returned to the house I began to write and posted the following:
Al Vann, Gone but Never Forgotten!
My wife and I were greeted at the door with smiles and embraces by his wife Mildred and granddaughter. After being entertained for a while by Mrs. Vann, we were led upstairs to where he lay in a comfortably large cushioned, adjustable bed which allowed him to sit up. When he saw us, he smiled, and tears came to his eyes. I held his extended hand. He started trying to speak, his voice ever so soft. I moved my face closer to his moving lips. Strangely his voice grew stronger. Ever discerning, Al Vann, I thought to myself, recognizing by the down move of my face. I was having a hard time hearing him and he said, “I love you guys”. My wife and I responded in unison, “We love you too”. He continued, “We made a difference! We turned things around.” I replied, “Yes, your legacy is secure. ‘You have put your footprints on the sands of time’. You will never be forgotten.”
Now the tears were flowing more freely. He tried to move his head from side to side, trying to make the “no” head motion. I didn’t want to get in his face, but I wanted to touch him, so I touched his head and moved back around to the front. Then he pointed to my wife and I and then to himself and whispered, "We turned it around!” Here, on his dying bed, he exhibited one of his qualities, and there were many others that endeared him to the people, Humility! He was a Giant of a man in every way, in every noble, admirable quality imaginable, and yet, he treated all of us as though we were his equal. Good night old friend, courageous warrior, may the God we both loved and served, send bands of Angels to sing you to your place in Paradise and tell Jitu and Sam and all the Freedom Fighters I’ll be seeing y’all soon!
During the last visit of Al Vann on Wednesday 7/13 and I understand that we were the last to see him alive, he mentioned that “we had turned it around”.
In an article that I wrote for the Randolph Evans Memorial Scholarship Ceremony I described briefly how we had come together and what we had accomplished:
Now we will focus on Randy Evans and conclude with a list of youth killed by the police. I could not do all of the youths killed, yet I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so I’ve listed all of the youth I could remember and research. Randy was killed by a police officer, Robert Torsney, in November 1976. The following year, almost to the day the jury pretty much acquitted the killer cop. The jury/judge said Torsney had a rare disease, psycho-motor epileptic seizure and therefore sentenced him to psychiatric treatments with weekends home. It should be pointed out that the epileptic foundation disassociated itself from this rare disease. It has been so with all of the cases cited except Russell Ross killed in September 1967. The killer cops all were white, and all were exonerated.
The killing and the sentences, the community was furious. We knew we had to do something different and dramatic. Prior to Randy there had been:
July 1964, Jimmy Powell, 15 years old, killed in Brooklyn, NY
September 1967, Russell Ross, 15 years old
August 15, 1972, Ricky Bodden, he was 10 years old, Staten Island
April 28, 1973, Clifford Glover, Brooklyn
September 1974, Claude Reese, Brooklyn
The four of us had been meeting for about 6-7 months analyzing our powerless situation in Brooklyn. It seemed that we were powerless in every regard, social, political, cultural, economic, etc. We looked at our numbers. Brooklyn had the largest concentration of people of African Ancestry in the Western Hemisphere. Over 1.5 million of our people lived in Brooklyn. We have come from many lands and had various stories to tell about our lives. Yet, with all of our numbers and diversity we were pretty much powerless.
We decided that we would provide leadership for the community's fury and anger. We put forth a three-prong tactic:
To the city, we demanded a blue-ribbon commission on the needs of our youth and why police killed our youths. To the federal court we demanded:
2. Robert Torsney to be indicted for the violation of Randy Evans’ civil rights. This federal law was put in place primarily in the South where juries would never convict a white man or woman no matter what they did to an African American. By creating a violation of the victims civil rights, it did not jeopardize the perpetrators rights of double jeopardy.
3. Thirdly, we targeted from the business community ten demands which included:
A percentage of profits of businesses and minority banks
Minority Media Advertising
Minority employment in construction
Maintenance of the Fulton Mall
Randolph Evans Community Crisis Fund and Randolph Evans Scholarship Fund
A Brooklyn fair for minority vendors
Space for groups to set up their tables and sell their products
Community advisory Committee
Entertainment Complex, (presently we wrote there is a multi-million-dollar development under construction in Downtown Brooklyn. Some aspect of this development is exactly what we had argued for in our initial meeting with the merchants in 1978.)
Those were the three targets and we called for Black Christmas 1977. The boycott lasted for about 8 months until the business community conceded our demands. The city under Mayor Ed Koch said that they were already organizing a youth commission and a meeting was set up with then Commissioner, Robert Wire. We did not succeed with the indictment of Robert Torsney.
In addition to our tactic our objective was clear. We wanted to perpetuate the memory of Randy, empower the people and create a movement. These three things we did. Saturday, June 25th will be the 43rd Scholarship Fund Ceremony for two years there was a hiatus due to covid-19. We created a movement out of which became the National Black United Front (NBUF), Black Veterans for Social justice (BVSJ), African People Christian Organization (APCO) and many others. In addition, we enhanced the already existing organization, thus out of the movement grew the people's empowerment.
We will always remember Jitu Weusi and Dr. Sam Pinn who have made their transition. Assemblyman Al Vann is still here. This Saturday, as I have mentioned we will be celebrating our 43rd year of the scholarship fund. The eternal credit goes to my wife, Dr. Karen Daughtry who from the inception has coordinated the ceremonies. Once we had the agreement from the business community, we did a rare thing. We gathered all of the people who had participated in a long boycott in the heat of summer and the cold of winter to a conference at Ramapo College campus in New Jersey. Dr. Sam Pinn was a professor there, in addition he was Chair of Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Jitu was the creator and Head of the East, a multi-dimensional culture of education, businesses, enterprises, etc. and the creator of what was then called the African Street Theater. Now it is the International Festival held annually on the 4th of July Weekend and Al Vann was our political leader.
At the conference, I said, I did not want anything but the perpetuation of the Randy Evans scholarship program. The business community agreed to fund the program for 5 years, 10-college bound students $1,500.00. After the 5th year, they liked the program so much they continued funding it for another 5 years. After which we have been raising the funds to implement the program. I said that I want my wife to be responsible and to coordinate the Randy Evans Scholarship program. I could think of no one who I knew would carry forward the program and would not just be another scholarship program. But it would be a program with the highest professionalism and expertise. The years have proved me right. And again, Saturday will be the 43rd anniversary.
For those who would like more information read my book “No Monopoly on Suffering” wherever books are sold or visit my website: hdgministries.org