By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Continuing a 17-year tradition, Brooklyn courts came together on a snowy Monday afternoon to commemorate the struggles, successes, and journey of black Americans. This year’s Black History Month kickoff celebration took place in the ceremonial courtroom of the Kings County Family Court building.
Brooklyn Family Court Judge Franc Perry served as master of ceremonies for Monday’s event; a position most befitting. Perry’s great-uncle was Carter G. Woodson, who originated the celebration of Black History Month. “This is a memorable day,” Perry noted to the audience of judges, lawyers and members of Brooklyn’s legal community.
Departing Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango remarked that the day was one to “commemorate the culture, beauty and traditions black Americans have contributed,” noting that their “journey was a difficult one but a successful one.”
Speaking to the journey taken by many black Americans in the struggle for civil rights, Perry recognized the number of black American “firsts” present in the audience. Appellate Division, 2nd Department Justice Priscilla Hall was the first African-American administrative judge for Kings County Supreme Court Criminal Term. Hall’s colleague on the Appellate Division bench, Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix, was the first African-American administrative judge for Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term.
One of Brooklyn’s surrogates, Diana Johnson, was the first African- American female surrogate in Brooklyn. Hon. Michelle Weston is the first and only African-American female to sit in the 2nd, 11th and 13th Appellate terms. Charles Smalls, the chief clerk of Brooklyn’s Supreme Court, is the first African-American to hold that position. And Perry himself is the first openly gay African-American elected to the bench in New York.
Newly elected Borough President Eric Adams gave an impassioned speech that was patterned more as an informal discussion rather than a ceremonial speech. Adams stated that the change in oratory format was because the audience “understands the plight of where we have been and where we need to go.”
Adams used this opportunity to talk not just of the struggle of black Americans, but the struggle of humankind. “If you look underneath the fingernails of every American, you will find the dirt from the toil taken to climb one step at a time to achieve the American dream,” Adams said to a brief pause of reflection on his words followed by a roar of applause.
Every year, the Black History Month committee procures entertainment for the audience that relates to African and African-American art. This year, the Djembe Drummers from Crown Heights graced the crowd with the sounds of a drum circle. “Art nourishes the anatomy of the soul,” Adams said, commenting on the drummers’ performance.
Court Officer Michelle Perry-Belches led the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” while Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Deborah Dowling reminded the audience, in her invocation and closing benediction, that February, Black History Month, is an opportunity to “remember those that have come before,” and, as Perry added, “the shoulders we all stand on today.”