This morning, I took leave of our morning lifeline prayer for Mayor Adams State of the City Address. The speech was scheduled for 12 noon. The doors were open at 11am. It was held at the Queens Theatre in Queens, NY. The theater was packed – standing room only. The Mayor started speaking at 12:40 pm and ended at 1:45pm. There were four points to his message: Jobs, Security, Housing, and Care. He said that New York has invested millions of dollars to create new jobs. Particularly, in what might be called hi-tech jobs. 500,000 new homes will be built across the city. New York is safer now than in a long time. New York has shown compassion for the Asylum seekers and for the homeless and for the mentally and emotionally challenged. He said, “I believe in solving the problem upstream before they become downstream.” He challenged New Yorkers to devote just one hour a day to helping someone.
I thought the Mayor’s presentation was compassionate, comprehensive, courageous and challenging; he covered all the bases.
At 5pm, I attended Devorah’s Hope at 1 Police Plaza. Devorah’s Hope is a film about a young girl and her brother who escaped the German invasion and occupation. When the war was over, she settled into another country. The family ordeal was highlighted but primarily the focus was on this young girl. The film was shown on the eve of Holocaust Day. Mayor Adams and the Police Commissioner Seawell spoke briefly at the event. As I walked from the Police Plaza to where my car was parked, I passed in the near distance, the African Burial Ground. I remember the struggle that we had to finally make the area a National Monument. I could not help but reflect on two of the most horrendous acts of humans against humans in history. The German concentration camps where we are told six million Jews were killed. It should be pointed out that others also died in the concentration camps and the enslavement of countless human beings. I thought about my visit to one of the first concentration camps in Germany, Sachsenhausen.
In 19- I participated in a five member delegation that went to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was at that time the Eastern part of Germany. After the war, Germany was divided. The GDR was under Russia’s control or influence. It had a socialist government. We spent about a week there. As I stated I visited Sachsenhausen, and there in color is one of the houses where people were put awaiting the death chambers. Hungarians, gypsies, trade unionists were identified with color strips and the number of those killed alongside. It was not all Jews in the concentration camps.
Our guide was a boy when he and his family were put in the concentration camps. His family was killed. He survived. He told us horror stories and what it was like being in the camps. This I was informed was one of the first, it wasn’t the worst. As I sat on the ground and listened to these horror stories, I thought how can humans be so cruel to other humans. How could they put their genius to work killing in the most gruesome fashion of a human being? Of course I thought of our enslavement where acts of human cruelty raggled and for as long as any in history. In fact, in our delegation was a Jew, Latino, Chicano, Native American. We talked long about the suffering of our people. In addition, we were taken to Cherine, Northern Germany where it is said Hitler planned the final solution to march the Jews into the sea.
One German theologian Martin Niemöller said,
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The young German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the German resistance movement, who was a part of a plot to kill Hitler, was put in a concentration camp, then hanged April 9 1945.
Leaving Germany I had another engagement in Ireland, Northern Ireland or Belfast. I had been in the struggle to free South Africa, free Mandela. We had formed an alliance with the Irish Freedom Strugglers. They laid claim to be the longest subjected people in history – 800 years being ruled by the British. But more specifically, the Hunger strike was the movement among Irish strugglers. Young Irish had gone on a hunger strike while in prison. One of the leaders, Bobby Sands, died from starvation. I participated in a memorial for him. Hence, they invited me to come to Ireland.
So on my way, I had to change planes in London. When the British security people saw my passport, they saw I was going to Ireland. He looked at me with a strange disgusting look and he said, “You’re not going up there to convert them are you”. And it startled me, for a minute I didn’t know what to say.” Here was this white man making me a partner to his interests and calling other white people the “them” with a deep disdain. When my papers were finished and I was on the plane, I couldn’t help but reflect on the “them”. It seems that it is a step towards violence, cruelty because humans are no longer referred to or thought of as being human, but the “thems” a number or name that negates human. I thought among other whites- especially in America. I am a member of the “thems”. When I arrived in Ireland, I was treated with unparalleled kindness and hospitality in the airport. They even wanted to serve me free everything. When my host came to take me to where I was to stay, I was rather shocked because I stayed in the home of a woman and children whose husband had been killed by the British at this very house. Three to four days I stayed in this house and she told me many horror stories of how they had been treated by the British.
I participated in the memorial of the Hunger Strikers who were starving themselves to death. I walked through the street of communities, Valley Murphy, Turf large and they were equal to any of these disadvantaged neighborhoods in America. When it was time to leave, Sinclair Boine, the filmmaker, asked me to stay on to complete the film the Black and the Green (this film has been produced and shown and is available.) One of the interviews we did was with one of the Irish strugglers supporting the Hunger Strike. The interview was done at SinFain HQ. SinFain is the political arm of the Irish Army. We sat for hours in the steel enclosed office. One of the questions I asked this young freedom fighter I said, “In the United States many Irish have become infected with the racism of America and are some of the most brutal policemen on the police force. What message would you deliver to the Irish in America.” He said, “ if the Irish cannot support the Black struggle then they don’t need to support us.” That quote was not in the later version of the film. We will never forget young Bernadette Delvin McAlliskey, when she was given an award in Chicago by Mayor Daly, she gave it to the Black Panther Party(BPP). “In Philadelphia, she had to goad an African-American singer to sing "We Shall Overcome" to the Irish-American audience, many of whom refused to stand for the song. In Detroit, she refused to take the stage until African-Americans, who were barred from the event, were allowed in.When New York Mayor Lindsay offered her the key to the city, she returned home to Ireland and recommended that the key be delivered to the Harlem Black Panther Party.”