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Hundreds Pack BAM for Civil Rights Leader's 'Inspirational' MLK Day Speech

By Janet Upadhye | January 21, 2013 4:40pm

FORT GREENE — Hundreds packed into the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 27th Annual Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday morning to listen to an electrifying speech by singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.

Some attendees waited more than hour outside in the cold before pouring into BAM's auditorium and cheering both Belafonte and a simulcast of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Belafonte, the keynote speaker at the event, used Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to highlight the work that is still left to be done on race issues in the United States. He called on the community to be active in fighting against stop-and-frisk, gun violence and an overabundance of prisons.

Belafonte urged the crowd to help "stop the machine."

"It was such a powerful call to action," said CUNY law student Andrea Bible. "He called on movement leaders and elected officials to recognize the persistent racism and the fact that there is so much left to be done."

The "Banana Boat Song" singer also spoke of his friend King's fear that the civil rights movement was like "integrating into a burning house," and said that we are still in that house.

"We build more prisons and prison cells than we build classrooms and schools," Belafonte said. "The house is burning."

He ended by asking audience members to be "firefighters," and was met with a standing ovation.

"Belafonte was nothing less than inspirational," said senior citizen Marjorie Miller.