Residents of Southeast Queens commemorated 400 years since the beginning of African enslavement in America at Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica.
State Senator James Sanders Jr. hosted the special event outdoors at the Black Spectrum Theatre on Aug. 30 entitled ‘A Tribute to the Ancestors’ which also highlighted the perseverance of Africans from 1619 to the present.
“We are here to honor these creative, industrious people, who despite being kidnapped and brought to our shores against their will, were resolute in their fight for human dignity and equality,” Sanders said. “I trust that our ancestors will find some solace in us marking the occasion as we continue the resistance.”
The event began with Sanders re-enacting a slave auction and summoning the spirit of Angela, the first African slave who was brought to Virginia 400 years ago.
Southeast Queens resident Doneath Powell portrayed Angela, and stood chained as the song “Bid ‘Em In” played in the background. The tune comes from the 2004 film of the same name, which depicts how a young woman’s humanity is cruelly rejected, as she is placed on the auction block of a small southern town in pre-civil war America.
The program included an opening prayer from Pastor Beverly Sharod of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle Church, a tribute to the ancestors with the pouring out of libations; a traditional African dance performance and drumming.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, who discussed the hundreds of years of African oppression from the first slave arriving to the Jim Crow Era of segregation and finally to the present day accomplishments of black people.
“We have made progress, but the fact of the matter is if you look at America’s dark ghettos today, we still have millions of black people, who are still struggling in poverty,” Daniels said. “Millions of communities are plagued with de-investment and de-industrialization, all across this country, and so we have an obligation to continue the struggle for the liberation of our people.”
Also speaking at the event was Anne C. Bailey, professor of History & Africana Studies at SUNY Binghamton; and Reverend Dennis Dillon of Rise Church, New York.
“Have we come far enough?” Bailey asked. “That’s a big question. Do we feel collectively that we have come far enough from the legacy of this past? Do we feel like we have made enough progress? If we haven’t made enough progress, where do we want this to move forward?”
The event concluded with Powell reprising her role as Angela, reciting the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, which says in part, “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”