Residents of Rochdale Village and community members from across Queens gathered Wednesday night, Feb. 22, for a Black History Month celebration hosted by the Queens District Attorney’s office.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz co-sponsored the event with City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, packing the Rochdale Village Community Center’s grand ballroom with a dinner, performances and keynote speaker.
A recurring theme of the night was the necessity of community in keeping Queens safe and prosperous for future generations.
“We need the youth to know that there are mentors and there is education and that we care deeply about their future,” Katz told the crowd. “You’re teaching kids, you’re mentoring kids, you get them ready for college, you get them ready to take those tests. That’s a community, that’s how you make this borough the safest place you can possibly make this borough.”
United States Attorney Breon Peace, the event’s guest speaker, echoed that sentiment in a speech he centered around the idea of resistance.
“I’m the U.S. attorney today because of resistance and resistance of Black people, the resistance of Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Thurgood Marshall and many others who actively challenged racism, discrimination, segregation, Jim Crow and the stigma of second-class citizenship,” Peace said.
Peace, representing the Eastern District of New York, shared that his priority is always keeping people safe and embracing serving the community, but through the lens of resisting traditional notions of prosecution.
He spoke on the importance of second chances, alternatives to incarceration and approaching prosecution in a holistic way.
“The one thing we cannot resist is doing things the right way, fairly, ethically, without bias, be it racial, political or any other form, without fear or favor and with compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings and always with the focus of the betterment of this community,” Peace said. “As prosecutors, the time is always right to seek justice, to do justice and resist injustice.”
The night was filled with performances from local non-profits and community groups that had the audience engaged and lively while reflecting on Black excellence.
DA Katz honored several community members, including giving a special posthumous award presentation in memory of Assistant District Attorney Alexis Celestin, who died last year.
Celestin, deputy director of the office’s conviction integrity unit, investigated past crimes with the hopes of vacating convictions and releasing wrongfully convicted people from prison.
“She was a remarkable woman,” Katz said of Celestin. “Alexis never gave up, she found the evidence, she stuck with it.”
The event also honored Dr. Maria Hubbard of the Greater Bethel Community Development, Derrick Shareef of Rochdale Village Community Center, Kevin Livingston, founder of 100 Suits for 100 Men, Assistant District Attorney Eva Cooper and Karen McKellar-Thurstoon, supervising paralegal at the DA’s Office.