June 15, 2023
Commissioner Laurie Cumbo, Department of Cultural Affairs: Yes, we are here for Juneteenth. I want to start this out a little bit differently because I usually start out with big energy because I'm a big energy person, but as I walk around here today, seeing all of these beautiful faces, seeing all of these accomplished doers, people doing things, I just want everybody that's here under this tent and I'm going to speak. I want everyone to close their eyes for a second. I'm going to take a page out of our mayor's book. I want to have a meditative moment for a second. I just want everybody to think about where you are at right now and go back a hundred years and visualize what this place on this day would look like 100 years ago.
I want you to think about what you would be doing if you were here. I want you to think about who would be on the stage if you were here. I want you to think about who would be in power if you were here. I want you to fast-forward 50 years from now and think about that same image and how similar it would look to a hundred years ago, and I want you to open your eyes now and look at the visual of our excellence of Black excellence here at Gracie Mansion. We are at Gracie Mansion. Do you understand where we are?
Do you understand how far we have come? Do you understand the sacrifice that our ancestors had to make for us to be here? To be sipping on champagne glasses and pasts hor d'oeuvres and hug, kissing and taking selfies and exchanging business cards? Do not take this moment for granted. Do not take the place that you're at at this moment for granted. This is a very special, incredible momentous time in history. Never before have we blazed the path like the one we are standing in in this moment right now. I just want you to think about where we are. I want you to think about the positions that we hold, and I had to write some of them down because it's so many. When we think about Letitia James, our New York State Attorney General. When we think about Jumanee Williams, first Black man to be public advocate.
When we think of Carl Heastie, speaker of the New York State Assembly. When we think of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, majority leader for the New York State Senate. When we think of Adrienne Adams, first Black woman speaker of the New York City Council. We think of Vanessa Gibson and Donovan Richards holding positions as borough president of the Bronx and Queens. When we think of Hakeem Jeffries on the congressional floor, first minority leader in the halls of Congress, the most powerful position in Congress. When we think of Yvette Clarke, only Black woman in Congress from New York State representing our interests. When we think of Ken Thompson, first district attorney that sends a tidal wave throughout the nation that we could hold that position, opened up the doors for Darcel Clark and Eric Gonzalez and Alvin Bragg. When we think of Rodneyse Bichotte, first Haitian woman to be the county leader of the largest borough in this county of Brooklyn. When we think of Chancellor David Banks and what he is going to do with our educational system to turn this city around. When we think of Sheena Wright, first deputy mayor, African-American woman of New York City, and it doesn't end there. We have held and fought for this position our entire lives. And it's not only here in New York City, we are also celebrating nationwide, and right here, the 50th anniversary of hiphop culture.
Hiphop has been, for so many of us, our own underground railroad. It has been what has transformed us into so many of the positions that we have held. When we think of Serena Williams, seven Wimbledon Championships. We think of Beyonce, 23 Grammy Awards. We think of Meghan Markle, whoever thought we would see a Black woman getting married at Buckingham Palace. When we think of LeBron James, highest NBA scorer of all time. When we think of Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America. Barack Obama, the greatest president this country has ever known. Michelle Obama, the most educated first lady and admired woman in this world. When we think of Robert Smith, the billionaire who is the chairman of the board of Carnegie Hall that paid the tuition for all those Morehouse men. Black men holding positions like Dick Parsons, like Ken Chenault, making a change for our communities.
And I could go on and on. Now I'm commissioner of Cultural Affairs. So in my position, I'm proud of what we are doing. In my position, appointed by Mayor Eric Adams, I'm allowed to oversee a budget where we are funding the new Africa Center in Harlem 651 arts and [inaudible] will have a new building. Studio Museum will have an $80 million new building. We are building the first hip hop museum in the Bronx. We are building the National Black Theater, the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, CCCADI, Louis Armstrong House in Queens is going to open. We're going to have a Bronx Children's Museum with a new African American Latina director. And the list goes on and on.
And I want to just take this time right now to just acknowledge the incredible work also of our commissioner, Sewell, first African American woman to lead the NYPD. Right? During the most challenging times in our history, and I'm just going to close because y'all know I can talk. We are positioned. We have Mayor Eric Adams who is at the helm. And as I said last year, we are positioned. What we have to do now. We can't let this moment pass us. We have to make sure that we support each other, that we work together, that we make sure that Mayor Eric Adams goes down in history as the greatest mayor of all time.
And I'll just close with saying this, when you are on a plane, like I said, you have got to root for the pilot. And Mayor Eric Adams is our pilot. We got to root for him. We got to work together. We got to unify, and we have to make this the Black excellence trailblazing path for the entire world to be lifted up by. So God bless you all. Support one another. Support our mayor, and let's continue to trail a new pathway for the next generation. I love you all. Thank you.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Really want to thank Laurie. I want to thank all of you and this is Juneteenth. And as we reflect on this moment, we need to just really pause for a moment. This is not a moment being under this tent where we came here to just drink champagne and just eat hor d'oeuvres. That's not what this moment is about. This is a moment of, as Laurie pointed out, a real reflection of what Juneteenth means to us and what it represents. I just want to bring up a few of my commissioners to join the stage with me, starting with Dwayne Sampson, the chair of the Board of Corrections, Jacques Jiha, who's our budget director and who has really put forward real contracts for working class people. NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Caban. Deanna Logan from MOCJ. Chief of Staff Camille Joseph Varlack. You could give it up. Deputy Commissioner Mark Stewart. First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright.
And then there's one more. You know those who know me know how close I am to my family. I had an older sister who I love so much. Right now, she's going through some physical challenges. She taught me everything. She's taught me how to dance. She taught me how to tie a tie. She taught me how to cook. She was so poised, so disciplined, so beautiful. Everything about her.
She raised all five of us while mommy went and worked. She surrendered her childhood because she could only be there for her siblings. And when I came into office, I saw someone that fit that description. I saw her poiseness. I saw how calm she was. I saw her spirit and I saw her and I thought automatically about Sandra, my sister. I called my sister and I said, I met someone just like you. And as difficult as it was for you to raise our family, she's going to have a difficult job. She's going to be attacked and criticized and beat down and called names and said she's not good enough. The same thing you went through, Sandra. She's going to go through. And I was troubled about it. I remember praying over and over and over again, but God touched my heart and he said it was the right person at the right time. And I want to say at the last Juneteenth she would be at, I want you to show our Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell some love.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell: Wow. It is absolutely an honor to be here with all of you to celebrate Juneteenth. I'll be brief, but I just want to say, look where we are. It takes a man of history, of tradition, of values to believe that he can put me in this position after 176 years of people not looking like me in this position. I absolutely cannot thank Mayor Adams enough for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to come to this community, to come to the NYPD, to meet all of you and to be your police commissioner. This has been the honor of my lifetime to work with all of these amazing people, and thank you so much for being a part of my life. I will miss you all. Have a good night.
Mayor Adams: This young childhood friend hated going to the doctor. He broke his leg and he said, he'll just work it out. It never fully healed, and he walked, thank you, Sheena, he walked with a limp his entire life because he never got the real treatment that he deserved. My people, that's where we are. Slavery did something to us. We may act like we are all right. We may go through the motion. Matter of fact, we dress well. We drive nice cars. We live in big houses, but the reality is from Juneteenth, two years after slavery was actually dismantled, the reality is that time does not automatically heal brokenness. This Juneteenth, we need to go backwards and really deal with the pain of slavery and what it did to us as a people.
You cannot see all that our ancestors went through, all the marching, all the praying, all of the dying, all the dogs, all the water hoses, all the picking cotton, and then delivering babies in the cotton field only to go pick it again, watching the slave master break into your cabin and take your wife, your daughter, and even your son, watching the hanging and forcing those black men across all parts of this country, even to the point that you had to create a song called Strange Fruit of so many Black men and women hanging from trees, burnings, all of that just to get the resiliency as Commissioner Cumbo stated, the resiliency, the magnificence of who we are to where we are right now.
What does that look like? Four of the major cities in this country are headed by black folks. She did the roll call. She talked about Hakeem Jeffries. She talked about Letitia James. She talked about the district attorneys and three of the boroughs. She talked about the borough presidents. She talked about the leader of the assembly, the leader of the Senate. She talked about the leader of the City Council. She talked about all of the various heads of the colleges being led by people of color and then dig into each one of those chambers. The major committees that determine who and what we are going to become are headed by people of color.
All that we have, public advocate of color, mayor of color, all that we have, we cannot use this moment as backbiting and tearing each other down and attacking each other and destroying each other and coming out of this time with nothing to show for the power that our ancestors created for it. When I stood on the shores of Senegal and looked out from the Door of No Return, I realized that we left Africa in slavery and now return with the mayoralty. That's how powerful we are. You don't use this strength to implode as a people. This is the moment we are in right now, and while we petty squabble and attack each other, our Black boys are carving highways of death with nine millimeter bullets through our community.
Homelessness is on the rise. While we attack each other, we cannot pass legislation to build more housing. While we attack each other, we're seeing unemployment increase in the Black community at a rate higher than others. While we attack each other, 200,000 Black folks are leaving this city because they cannot afford to live in this city. While we attack each other, we're not seeing the productivity that we can produce. That's what Juneteenth is about. It's not a ceremonial time that takes place on the calendar of the year. It's the moment of reflection. Who are we going to become? Who are we going to become? I'm forever energized and you need to really have a close look at what's happening right now.
They say that being the mayor of the City of New York is the second most difficult job that you could have in politics. I say, when does the hard part start? Let me tell you what being hard is. Hard is picking cotton from sunup to sundown. Hard is watching someone beat you with a whip. Hard is watching yourself in Tulsa, Oklahoma building wealth just to have it burned down. Hard is going down the block and seeing your ancestors hanging from a tree. Hard as being a mother raising six children and having to have three jobs to do so. I know what hard is.
There was a scene in the movie Glory when Denzel Washington went off to see his lady friend. When they came back, they brought out a whip to beat him. They pulled up his shirt and they saw the scars on his back, and he held onto the wheel as to say, bring it on. I know every day, I read the articles, I know you think you can whip me and make me go from saying Kunta Kinte to Toby, but damn it, Kunta Kinte is all I know. I know, I know you think that you can write what you want. I know you think you can talk about what you want, but watch how I'm turning around the most important city in the most important country. You're watching the city come back at a level that no one expected. Those who monitor how you invest in cities gave us a AA bond rating. You're watching tourism come back. Jobs are returning. Our cities become safer and safer because the police commissioner that was laser focused. People are back on the subway system again, walking down streets. The prosperity is returning. They didn't think that I can do it. Who is this bald headed earring wearing black guy, think he's going to come and run this major city? I can run this city because our families ran households with nothing. We know what crisis is. We know what hard times are.
Listen, only God can take you from being dyslexic, arrested, rejected, and now I'm elected to be the mayor of the city of New York. That's who I am. Well, well whoa. Well, we don't like him. We don't like him. We don't like him. We don't know what it is. You can say whatever you want, but just make sure you end it with Mayor Adams. Don't get it mixed up. Don't get it mixed up. Yes, yes. Yeah, I know it frustrates you. You know? I know I walk around like I got diamonds in my thighs. I know that. I know it gets you upset. I know it.
But right now in this city, the 110th mayor is Eric Adams. And you look across the board, first Korean to head Small Business Services, first Indian to be a deputy mayor, first Dominican, to be a deputy mayor, first African American woman to be the first deputy mayor, first African American woman to be a police commissioner, first woman to be a fire commissioner, first Philippine to be a deputy mayor, first person of a Hispanic to be in charge of the Department of Correction. Just go down the list and see what's happening all around us. People who sat on the sideline for years and only could be number two, are moving to positions of number one. And they're running the city. Do you know what happened across America when Keechant Sewell became the police commissioner? You know what happened?
They want to tear all of us apart. We've been there before. We know this script. We're not going to fall victim again, and so I want to say to you, my people, I want to say that no matter what you're feeling, no matter what despair is around us, we did not come this far to fail. We did not come this far to fail. This Juneteenth, let us remember that people gave their lives for us to sit on this grass today. We are in Gracie Mansion because our presence grace this country. And we deserve to be here. God be with you. Let's continue to move forward together, backward never.