By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Last Thursday, I attended a historic ceremony at the New York Hall of Science.
Youve likely read or heard about it elsewhere. It was the induction of Helen
Marshall as the first African American Borough President of Queens. I was there with Trib
editor Tamara Hartman and some six to seven hundred plus other close friends of Helen.
The fourteen new Queens members of the City Council were all there as
were several large handfuls of other elected officials, most notably Mayor Mike Bloomberg
who swore Helen in.
What was evident was this was a celebration of black Queens and black
New York coming into their own. The headline on the front page of the PRESS of
Southeast Queens last week read "Black Power" above a picture of Bloomberg,
Helen, Comptroller Carl McCall and Queens most powerful man of color, Reverend Floyd
In addition to Helen, City Councilmen Leroy Comrie, Allen Jennings and
James Sanders, the Comptroller and Flake, the list of African Americans in attendance
included Manhattan Beep C. Virginia Fields, Congressman Gregory Meeks, State Senators Ada
and Malcolm (no relation) Smith, Assemblymen Bill Scarborough and emcee Jeffrey Aubry,
Queens Democratic powerhouse former Council Deputy Speaker Archie Spigner, new City
Comptroller Bill Thompson, NY Secretary of State Randy Daniels, Deputy Mayor Dennis
Walcott, Dean of the NY Congressional delegation Charlie Rangel and everybodys elder
statesman, former Manhattan Borough President, powerbroker Percy Sutton. Im sure I
missed a batch. And at least half the non-VIP attendees were people of color.
The PRESS January 4, 2002.
They came to cheer Helen and this watershed black event. It was
an uplifting moment of pride. Black Power was celebrated without fists raised or whites
As we sat in the office that afternoon writing the front page
"Black Power" headline for the Press, Tamara, Press
Associate Publisher Marcia Comrie, managing editor Stephen McGuire and I debated the
message of the words "Black Power."
Did the image conveyed by the speakers and main players at the ceremony
deserve to be labeled Black Power?
Can you use the words without conveying the defiance of the 1968 Mexico
Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to the playing of the Star
Spangled Banner during the medal ceremony?
Do we equate the day and the people with H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis,
Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, the Black Panthers, Eldridge Clever, wow?
The words bring back great memories for this liberal who walked the
picket lines of the sixties and read the black literature of the decade of rebellion.
There was no shame in Black Power then there was only a question whether some
individuals went too far. And there is absolutely no shame now. On the contrary, there is
We are all proud of Helen Marshall. We are proud that Queens, the most
multi-cultural place on earth selected a person of color as its leader. We are proud that
blacks, white, Asians and Latinos can all celebrate the moment.
& Mike Schenkler
photo: Dee Richard
We are proud that the people voted for Helen because they thought
she was qualified. She earned the position on merit, not on color. We fervently hope that
Helen was elected because of her ability, not her skin. There is nothing wrong with blacks
taking pride in one of their own being elected to office; but there can be no real pride
if the election was tainted with votes motivated by ethnicity and not ethics.
When Joe Lieberman was selected as the vice presidential candidate on
the Democratic line during the last national election, I found some pleasure in finally
knowing that a Jew was accepted into that previously exclusive club. I was proud of
Lieberman, but critical of his frequent reference to God and his religion. I was glad that
he lessoned the frequency of reference as the campaign progressed. Joe was getting my vote
because I felt George W. was worse than Al Gore. Yeah, it was the case of the lesser of
two meatballs, not religious pride.
Latinos celebrated the success of Freddy Ferrer a quality
candidate who could have been Mayor. Freddy was great; he still is.
John Liu, the Citys first Asian councilmember, is a hero in the
Firsts are big deals. Firsts are gratifying and bring celebration and
pride when they are achieved through hard work and merit.
Helen, right on sister!
Its funny, when I think back to the Black Power of those days
gone by, Dr. Martin Luther King doesnt come to mind. His message was more cerebral
and spiritual he dreamed of the Promised Land as opposed to Borough Hall. And next
week the nation celebrates his birth.
It was Martin Luther King who had a most profound effect on this writer
and his politics towards race. I remember the March on Washington, I was there for the
1968 Poor Peoples March. Somewhere I have recordings of his speeches, my library
contains his work, and he was an inspiration to my students and me for the four years I
spent as a classroom teacher.
I remember working on a current events unit with my fifth-sixth grade
class in P.S. 219 Queens. Two thirds of my students were from Kew Gardens Hills and one
third bussed in from South Ozone Park it must have been 1970. The unit culminated
in a celebration of Martin Luther King with a multi-media auditorium presentation of
Kings life and student work. It was my earliest creative effort that I remember with
pride. It was outstanding. It was 32 years ago.
I still remember some of the words written by my talented and gifted 11
and 12 year olds.
Debbie Tarply, a delightful, sensitive black girl from South Ozone Park
who I havent heard from in 32 years, wrote these words that still remain in my head:
Do you know what happiness is?
Im sure it isnt war.
Do you know what happiness is?
Tell me where and what its for.
This place of which you talk,
Can all the people walk?
Tell me, where is such a place?
Is there equality for every race?
Can I grow up there?
And Debbies classmate, Susan Lebow, a bright, white girl from
Kew Gardens Hills who came to my home maybe a decade ago raising money for NYPIRG
and I thought then, maybe I had some effect penned these words that are still with
Dr. King if you can hear me,
Your work still marches on.
Your wife and we remember well,
The mount you stood upon.
We recall your dream to make men equal,
Your dream to set men free.
Keep watching us as we march on,
Till man lives peacefully.
Its funny, when I think back to the days gone by, I also
think about Helen Marshall.
I met her in 1957ish. My dad was principal of P.S. 143 in Corona; Helen
was president of the Parent-Teacher Association. When I interviewed her during the
campaign we chatted about the school. We both remembered being at the dedication of the
original Langston Hughes Library on Northern Boulevard, we both recalled prominent Corona
resident Malcolm X and his kids. As Jeff Aubry explained during the ceremony, Helen got
her Doctorate on Northern Boulevard. She then went on to Queens College and has since
become one of the Citys most vital fighters for higher education.
I also remember being one of the organizers of Freedom Week on the
Queens College campus in 1964. I remember meeting dozens of civil rights leaders and
sharing thoughts and tactics with hundreds of students. I remember the activity that
culminated our weeklong celebration of the fight for equality we marched on the
opening of the 64 Worlds Fair at Flushing Meadows. We picketed the New York
City Pavilion now the Queens Museum protesting the de facto segregation in
City schools. Some of us then marched on the Schaefer Beer Pavilion to protest their
policies of job discrimination. It was my first and only struggle with the law and near
arrest. Ill always remember that one.
Some of the old buttons
of my youth.
My past is filled with memories of the struggle a struggle
that I always felt was my struggle a struggle for equality for Black Americans. I
guess it became my struggle because it was my fathers struggle. Dad was a Queens
school principal who saw problems and tried to fix them. Saw injustice and felt violated.
He took every societal injustice personally. Im grateful for his legacy.
And now that Ive rambled all over the subject and shared personal
reflections of a Queens kid growing up during the civil rights struggle, I come back to
Thursdays celebration of Helen.
The celebration was brief . . . we were back in the office in three
hours. And now the job begins. Helen Marshall must lead this borough of two million
people. She must stimulate economic growth; she must provide tens of thousands of new
school seats; she must unify our diverse cultures while securing our newly threatened
safety; she must protect the environment while allowing for progress; she must care for
the sick and disadvantaged during an economically difficult time; she must follow a woman
who set new standards for borough presidents. Helen must perform miracles.
The African Americans of this County took pride in the ceremony of last
weeks swearing in. I smile and salute my old friend, Helen Marshall, a lady of grace
And now Helen, the job begins!
What have you done for us lately?