WAKANDA FOREVER! How New York State is creating Living History

By State Senator Kevin Parker | February 9, 2024

Since 1976 we have “officially” celebrated February as Black History Month due largely in part to the work and teachings of Carter G. Woodson, who in his day dedicated his life to the study of the history of African American people. He viewed this as important because of the blatant attempt to essentially erase our contributions from the face of world history. Due to his efforts we use this month to celebrate and honor the legacy and contributions of our historical figures in every field of endeavor. However, though it’s wonderful to talk about the people and places of historical significance during this February month I believe it’s far more important in 2024 America to underscore a critical point being neglected especially here in our great Empire State of New York: That Black history is now! Let’s examine this microscopically and also look at what the conclusion means for us as a society. The foundation for my claim is the fact that at no other point in our history we have had so much Black political leadership at every level of government in the State of New York. It starts with the Lt. Governor, Antonio Delgado, NYS Attorney General Letitia James, Speaker of the NYS Assembly Carl Heastie and President Pro Tempore and Majority of the NYS Senate Andrea Stewarts-Cousins. Finally, at the State legislature level is the Majority Leader of the Assembly Crystal D. Peoples–Stokes. When it comes to Mayoral representation, the three top cities in the State – New York, Buffalo and Rochester all have black Mayors respectively: Mayor Eric Adams, Mayor Byron Brown and Mayor Malik Evans. The list goes on with the Speaker of the New York City Council Adrianne Adams and the second in line of citywide leadership Jumaane Williams as Public Advocate and Chief Justice of State of New York Hon. Rowan D. Wilson. Borough wide we have representation of two Black District Attorneys and three Black Boroughs Presidents in the persons of Alvin Briggs Manhattan DA, Darcel Clark, Bronx DA, Antonio Reynoso Brooklyn BP, Vanessa Gibson, Bronx BP and Donovan Richards, Queens BP. In all of these leaders collectively we have living history. But also on an individual level we cannot ignore the history makers like Andrea Stewart-Cousins being the first African American woman to lead a legislative Conference in the State of New York and Mayor Byron Brown the longest serving Mayor of any city. There are many other history making pursuits among these esteemed leaders but the central point to my argument is clear: Black History is now! So what does this mean in particular at the societal level? First and significantly for all of us is that this living history should not be squandered. It is a golden opportunity to make a seismic impact on the advancement in the lives of not just African Americans but all people. The fact is that historically Black political empowerment has always resulted in the empowerment for other groups as well. The hardcore battles won by African Americans in this country on our journey to self-determination did not just benefit Black people. The right to vote, to public education, to government services, housing discrimination based on race and national origin, sex and gender discrimination, workplace sexual harassment are issues that have benefitted marginalized people including but not exclusive to the Latino, Jewish and LGBTQ communities. On record is our history that when we open the doors we hold them open to those who are behind us. This added to the fact that Black leadership has always been a more equitable leadership because we know oppression. That’s why it is never in question for us of the truth inherent in the statement: stronger together.

In 2018 the blockbuster history making movie Black Panther hit movie theaters and created a cultural awakening across the world. The late Chadwick Boseman who played the film’s main character had this to say to TIME Magazine prior to its release: “You might say that this African nation is fantasy. But to have the opportunity to pull from real ideas, real places and real African concepts and put it inside of this idea of Wakanda—that’s a great opportunity to develop a sense of what that identity is, especially when you’re disconnected from it.” I am proud that here in New York we have an opportunity to add one more element to Boseman’s “real list.” And that is real people. Therefore, it is no fantasy to look at our State this Black History Month and in forging an identity that was hitherto challenged, embrace the notion of: Wakanda Forever!

Senator Kevin Parker is Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. He represents New York’s 21st Senatorial District, which consists of many diverse communities: Flatbush, East Flatbush, Kensington, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Flatlands, Canarsie, Georgetown, Old Mill Basin, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Marine Park.