WAKEFIELD — Preachers and politicians summoned Martin Luther King Jr.’s soaring religious language and his moving political rhetoric at a packed church service in Wakefield Monday morning, 83 years after the civil rights leader was born.
The speakers, who included Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Sen. Charles Schumer, highlighted the racial and social progress achieved since King’s death in 1968, but also the entrenched inequalities that linger throughout much of the Bronx and the United States.
King "took a giant mirror and lifted it above his shoulders and constantly showed it to America," Schumer said from the pulpit of Trinity Baptist Church on East 224th Street. "Today, we need Dr. King more than ever."
Diaz, who is the son of State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who's also a firebrand preacher, said that rather than recite all of King’s accomplishments, people today should ask: “What are we doing?”
He then launched into a list of what he called political victories for the Bronx: half-a-billion dollars worth of housing construction during the recession, a recent education summit and a new law that allows outer borough residents to hail livery cabs.
But Diaz saved his strongest language to celebrate a compromise achieved last week over the so-called living wage bill.
Diaz has advocated for a bill that would require companies at city-subsidized developments to pay employees at least $10 an hour – a proposal that helped derail plans to redevelop the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory in 2010.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced new compromise legislation on Friday that would require only companies receiving direct subsidies from the city to pay employees the so-called living wage, which is a few dollars more than the minimum wage.
Diaz lauded this deal during Monday’s memorial service.
“We know we have to stand up to the hardened hearts of the corporate pharaohs,” he said to loud applause. “If you want charity from our city dollars, then you have to be charitable.”
Several state legislators also addressed the capacity crowd, as did State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller who barely lost the 2009 mayoral race to Michael Bloomberg.
While the politicians cited America's racial advancements — notably the election of an African American president in 2008 — they also noted that areas of the Bronx that are home mostly to people of color are among the poorest and least healthy in the nation.
Later, Rev. Dr. David L. Kelly, pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Brooklyn, gave the day’s sermon.
Nodding towards the politicians who filled the pews closest to the pulpit, Kelly said, “You don’t have to compromise to be promoted,” before adding bluntly: “Don’t sell your soul for votes.”
Between the speakers, the house choir performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” while the audience waved their arms and sang along. The event concluded with a recording, played over loud speakers, of King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.