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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at 2015 West Indian American and Carribbean American Heritage Reception

September 8, 2015

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Thank you, Katie. Please, everyone give her another round of applause.


First Lady: We welcome you to Brooklyn.

Unknown: Thank you.

First Lady: Good evening everyone!

[Good evening]

I was going to say I don’t know how you look so fresh and so vibrant and so alive, but I can tell you really are kind of tired, right?


Yeah, that’s right. Its – how is it possible if you haven’t gotten a lot of sleep in the last few of nights? I can only wonder why.


Well, you still look good. You still look really good to me, and that’s – that’s a benefit of being Caribbean, right?

We look beautiful even when we’ve been partying. And I do say we on purpose, because I do trace my roots back to the island that just a smile wide, Barbados. Is Barbados in the house?


Yeah? St. Lucia? Yeah? Jamaica?


Panama? Yeah? And you know, I could go on, because I have a very big family.


No matter how you cut it, I am a daughter of the Caribbean. Now, I’m going to take a moment because I have to do some truth telling. It’s important to tell the truth, right? Yes? Right? Do I hear you?

Yeah? Well I’m going to tell some truth about Dr. Una Clarke. Momma Clarke’s 80th birthday was back in December. I told the truth then, and I’m going to tell it again. This Caribbean woman only gets more wise, more fiery, and more bold with time. Am I right?


Even if you don’t know her personally – and there’s probably about maybe one or two of you in this room, don’t know who she is because she gets around.  I have to tell you, you know of her, from her work, from everything that she’s done – to lift up our families; to lift up our communities; to lift up our city. She is most wise, most fiery, and most bold.

And Dr. Clarke, I know – I know you have no plan to slow down any time soon – as it should be when you have so much to contribute. And I look forward to many, many years of working with you. And I could go on, but I’ve got to leave something for the mayor to say.


It is now my pleasure to introduce the man who shares my love of all things Caribbean, including Mama Clarke. A man who day dreams of cuckoo and flying fish; the man I met in City Hall 24 years ago this September, our mayor, Bill de Blasio.


Mayor Bill de Blasio: Now, it was not 24 years ago this September. It was 24 years ago tomorrow.


I have to dwell on this for a moment. I was minding my own business –I always say, all of my stories begin with this – I was minding my own business, I was sitting at my cubicle, and I saw someone pointing at me. One of my colleagues pointing at me, and she was pointing a beautiful young woman in my direction. And I saw this vision of beauty, glide toward me, and  I want you to know the angels sang, I heard violins, and I say – this is the truth – I say, for me it was love at first sight.

And I say Chirlane McCray felt absolutely nothing. 


But, my brothers and sisters, persistence is a very good characteristic – very strong in the Caribbean experience, wouldn’t you say? So, I just knew, maybe she needed to get to know me a little better, so I would stick with it. So 24 years, tomorrow.

First Lady:  That’s right, anniversary – ‘meet-iversary’.

Mayor:  ‘Meet-iversary’ – that’s a new word; we just came up with here – our ‘meet-iversary’. But I think you all know by now, she is the love of my life, and my partner in all I do.

And I have to tell you – this is very, very pertinent to the history and the culture we celebrate tonight – I got to know very early on, the power of Chirlane’s Caribbean roots because if you spend time with her family, you heard about it.

You heard the pride and the sense of connection, and her great-grandmother – this is a very powerful point – her great-grandmother was a follower of Marcus Garvey. Yes, and her great grandmother owned stock in the Black Star Line. And we actually still have the stock certificates. So in terms of family that was proud, and understood what they believed in, and what they were fighting for, that was Chirlane’s family, long before Chirlane came along.

So Chirlane, as someone who stands up for justice and speaks up, I have to say, I love her for everything she does that’s unique, but I also know she stands on the shoulders of many great people, and she is proud and strong because of that heritage. So, we celebrate tonight – everyone in this room has a story of what your heritage has meant for you, how it’s made you who you are today.

We saw it yesterday on Eastern Parkway, we saw something beautiful – this city – one of the great events each year in this city, such a powerful expression of culture. And a part of the city that has made us so great. Over 600,000 people from the Caribbean who make us what we are today.

So we saw that yesterday, but I just want to take a moment before we talk about the greatness of community, and before we talk about our great honoree, I want to say what I said at the parade breakfast again.

We are proud, we are feeling a sense of celebration and joy, but our hearts are heavy for two reasons. First, for our brothers and sisters in Dominica, who just went through such a tough time because of tropical storm Erica, and that is a small island, obviously it doesn’t have a lot of resources, so we have to be their resource. This city and the people in this city who come from Dominica, but all who feel a sense of solidarity have to stand up for the people of that island right now. And second, we are all praying and in solidarity with the family of Carey Gabay who is fighting for his life right now.

I was with his family yesterday, and a beautiful, powerful family they are, we have to be at all times with them in spirit and solidarity and prayer as he fights on. Now, brothers and sisters, we have a lot of people here who are part of what make this community great, and I’m going to take a moment to thank them. Now most people I’m going to name have the joy of having a family connection to the Caribbean, some are just so wonderful they might as well be Caribbean-American, or they’ve done a lot for Caribbean-American people, or both.

First, I want to thank out deputy mayor for – Richard Buery, this is a proud day. Tomorrow, in our schools, over 65,000 children will walk through the door to full-day pre-k – 65,000 children. Let’s thank Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.


A proud grandson of – or a son of Panama. You’re a grandson of Panama. Hello mom, thank you mom, you did a good job.


I want to thank, Marco Carrion, our Commissioner for the Community Affairs Unit. Now, Puerto Rico counts too, right?

It’s in the Caribbean, right? Alright, Nisha Agarwal – her family is not from the Caribbean, but she is the architect of NYC I.D. and that’s been good for everyone. So, let’s thank Nisha Agarwal.

Our Commissioner for Citywide Administrative Services, she is from all parts of the Caribbean simultaneously. Stacy, where are you? Stacy, you’re Jamaican, you’re Bajan, Trinidadian – you are the world, Stacy Cumberbatch – also, a name like Cumberbatch. Come on, give her some love people, come on.


He’s very, very Italian, so I just want – a point of privilege tonight, our Fire Commissioner, who does great for all of us, Dan Nigro, thank you – honorary Caribbean tonight.


Fidel del Valle, proud son of the Caribbean in another way.  Fidel, where are you? I hear a voice – which islands?

Mayor: Cuba and Puerto Rico? Ok, we will take it.


Now, elected officials with us this evening – let’s make sure I get it right, if I miss anyone I want you to call out – Senator Parker are you here?  Kevin Parker?

Senator Kevin Parker: Yes Sir.

Mayor: There he is, present and accounted for. Proud grandson or son of –

Senator Parker: Flatbush.


Mayor: And before – you know, Kevin, there was life before Flatbush.


Ok, I know Brooklyn is the center of the universe, but there was something before.


Flatbush, okay.  It’ll remain a mystery.

Rodneyse Bichotte, proud daughter, granddaughter of Haiti. Let’s thank her.


Walter Mosley, Where are you? There you are. You can declare any affiliation you want at this point.

Alright, proud husband of a Puerto Rican. That’ll work, ok.

Is Andy King here? Andy King? There he is – never, never going to miss Andy King. 


Brother, you are the world. Do you want to claim an affiliation at this moment?

Councilman Andy King: I claim an affiliation for my sweet wife and the island of Dominica, who’s going through a tragedy right now.

Mayor: Is she there?

Councilman King: No she’s here.

Mayor: But she’s helping?

Councilman King: But her mother’s there.

Mayor: Ah, wow. His wonderful wife Neva Shillingford, Executive Vice President of 1199, who is standing by.


And I want to thank from – did I miss any elected officials? Who did I miss? Jacques Jiha – I’m sorry Jacques.

Jacques Jiha leading our Department of Finance – proud – he is not from Dominica – he is a proud son of Haiti. We thank you.


Did I miss any elected officials? Where? D.A. – D.A Ken Thompson. We welcome you; we thank you.


Do you want to claim an affiliation to any part of the Caribbean?

District Attorney Ken Thomson: The whole Caribbean.

Mayor: The whole Caribbean – good answer. That’s why he is district attorney, ladies and gentlemen.


Any other elected official I missed? Ok, I want to thank from the diplomatic community – His Excellency Denise Regis, permanent representative of Haiti to the United Nations, thank you very much.


So, look. This is what I want to say. I want to just recognize Una Clarke – but first say, Una Clarke is great, not just because of who she is, not just because of her own skills and drive and vision, but I learned a long time ago watching Una – Una always believed her power was based on the power of the people; she always believed in the grass-roots; she always believed in organizing people.

She believed that immigrant communities could have a powerful political voice beyond what anyone in the mainstream thought was possible. And I watched this – and I’m going to just brag on you for a moment – because I watched every step of the way as she re-wrote the rulebook. And she said, this is a city that is changing, this is a city that has always been a city of immigrants, but there is a new set of communities today. It is time for those communities to come into their own.

And she didn’t just say it from the top down; she went out and talked to people and convinced them of their own power, of their own possibilities; of what their voices could mean; of what their organizing could mean. And she made people believe. Now brothers and sisters, it’s great to be a great leader and thinker, and personality, but it’s especially great to show other people their own power. And that’s what Una Clarke did. Let’s give her a round of applause for that alone.


She came here in 1958 at the age of two.


A little re-writing history never hurt. First Caribbean born woman elected to the City Council – as she likes to say the first immigrant woman.


And Una, you did so much – the legislation you passed, the resources you brought back to the community, the organizations you helped to build.

But while you were doing all that, you thought it might be good to also give birth to and nurture a future congresswoman, and that too was one of your great contributions. Now, Yvette may be joining us, that’s the word on the street. I am very proud to say she is our congresswoman – Chirlane and I are such fans of Yvette, and you taught her right, and that is something to be very, very proud of.

So, we know, in thinking about Una, we know that she gave us all a sense of what was possible – again, even when it didn’t appear originally possible. I’m going to take a moment just to brag about how we have borrowed your idea, and applied it here.

A lot of people told Richard Buery last year that 53,000 kids in pre-k wouldn’t be possible. Well, he got that done and as I said, now its 65,000 tomorrow.


I cannot tell you how many times Richard and I had conversation with people who told us we were on a fool’s errand and it was impossible, but we persevered.
A lot of people told Nisha Agarwal that this Municipal I.D. program was a lovely idea, but no one would be particularly interested. Well, we had an event a few weeks ago – we announced that 400,000 New Yorkers already had a Municipal I.D. from every community of this city. But that number quickly became out [inaudible] because it’s now half-a-million people have a Municipal I.D. in this city.


So these are the kinds of things that change people’s lives. And the only way it works is to believe – not yesterday’s rules, not yesterday’s narrow definitions, but to believe in what we can achieve together. And that again is what Una has taught us all through all of her work.

I have to note as I honor her that Una never was given a dictionary that had the word retirement highlighted in it because it is evidence she does not understand the meaning of the word retirement. When I try to reach Una I get her invariably at any time of day or night between various meetings going late into the evening. So, Una if you were ever told of the concept of retirement you are very bad at it. Okay and we are the better for it. So I called up Una some weeks ago and I said I needed a strong voice for our young people. And a strong voice for helping every kind of young person, especially our immigrant young people to achieve their dreams through the City University of New York, and I needed a great person on the CUNY board. And I said, Una Clarke you’re that great person, do you accept. And guess what – given her work ethic – guess what, without hesitation I had the honor of adding her to the CUNY board where she continues to do great work.


So [inaudible] I get to honor Una Clarke with a proclamation on top of you many other achievements you get to have a day named after you now.

Get ready.

Get ready.

In honor of the extraordinary achievements of Una Clarke I hereby proclaim Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 in the City of New York, Una Clarke Day.


Alright, paparazzi you got it?


Now – ladies and gentlemen beside every great woman there is also a great man; let’s thank Leslie Clarke for all he has done.


And we’re about to conclude the formal ceremony, but we want everyone to enjoy themselves and spend time together – but I am told – I’m handed a note of great importance here. Is it a true statement that Harry Belafonte has joined us? Is that true?


Why are you hiding in the back for?

Come on over.


Make your way to the front Harry.

I’m going to talk about Harry Belafonte while he works his way over here.

Do we have a handheld mic or just this one?

So my friends, Chirlane and I were blessed to get to know Harry and Pamela over these last few years. And some icons live up to their reputation – maybe even surpass it. So, don’t blush now. Okay.

But I have to say Harry has not for a second stopped believing in things. In fact, one of the things Harry you said to me never left me was – I was talking to Harry about what it would mean to try and change this city as mayor. And I said, look, I’m always looking for inspiration – different leaders over time. I said as mayor there’s no one ever better in our whole history – no one was ever better that Fiorello La Guardia. And Harry said to me – you know it’s interesting my mom had me out campaigning for Fiorello La Guardia.


I remember carrying around the literature and the signs. And I thought that was very powerful – that as a child Harry Belafonte was already working to change the world. What he has done with his music; with his activism; with his leadership. From that moment to this day – absolutely unbroken commitment to making the world a better place. And I dare say – don’t blush again – one of the most important, most famous, most renowned, most appreciated people to ever come out of the Caribbean islands in the history of the Caribbean.

We thank you, Harry Belafonte.


Alright, give Harry and Pamela a big round of applause everyone.


And enjoy this beautiful evening.

Give one more round of applause to Una Clarke.


Thank you everyone.

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