Over 1,000 invited guests jammed the Dreiser Loop Auditorium for Congressman Joseph Crowley’s 11th Annual Black History Month celebration, which this year featured the keynote speaker, former President Bill Clinton.
With this year’s theme: “Celebrating Service: Giving Back to New York and the World,” Crowley honored four Bronxites with special plaques honoring the work of Assemblyman Carl Haste; community activist Mary McKinney, and Harry S. Truman High School students Zonya Williams and David Nnah, during the event held Wednesday, February 17.
In his opening remarks to his guests, Crowley stated, “The African-American family has a long history of service; both President (Barak) Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have proud records of giving back to their community.”
Crowley continued, “As Dr. King said, ‘The time is always right to do what’s right’. It is always right to give back.'”
Crowley pointed out that Congress recently passed The Edward M. Kennedy Service For America Act, designating September 11th as National Day of Service and Remembrance, and locally Crowley implemented a “Summer of Service,” helping to organize his constituents in Bronx and Queens.
Assemblyman Haste was speaking of his own public service, when he told the crowd, “When you are in public service, it gets tough sometimes. A lot of times the newspapers, (say things) without labeling it in the most positive fashion, it gets very tough, but it’s very good when people in the community still think that you’re doing the right thing and a wonderful job.”
Haste then may have surprised some of his own supporters, when he added, “I don’t know how much longer I want to be in elected office. I think that somewhere you need to change over and get new people and new ideas.”
Haste recalled how he was disappointed with himself for only being able to give $1,000 in funding to a senior center in his district, but was delighted to find out six months later that the center was allowed to double in size thanks to the industrial size refrigerator they bought with the funds.
After musical selections performed by the Co-op City Baptist Church Choir and a dance performance by The Keltic Dreams, a dance troupe based at P.S. 59, a portion of that performance enjoyed by the 42nd President, Clinton took the microphone.
With GOP candidates surging in the polls a year after President Obama was elected, Clinton told the warm crowd, “I understand why the American people are frustrated, we’ve had too many people out of work for too long… and a lot of the things that need to be done, are inherently complicated, like health care.”
“I think the President is trying to do the right thing for this country,” Clinton continued, “I don’t blame people for being frustrated and angry… but I’m telling you this country was very close to falling into a depression.”
The former President drew laughter when he asked the crowd, “You think you got problems, what if you were Assemblyman Haste. What if you had to balance the New York City budget and you couldn’t print money like they do in Washington?” Clinton continued, “These are not easy times but there are still things we can all do.”
Less than a week after being briefly hospitalized, where stents were placed inside his arteries, Clinton would add, “People have been betting against America for over 200 years and so far everyone that’s bet against America, has lost money.”
Clinton recalled a conversation with an earthquake survivor digging through the rubble in Haiti, the man telling him, “I really have nothing else to do, my whole family was killed in the earthquake. I think the only way I can honor them is come out here and do this.'”
Offering more inspiration, Clinton concluded, “If a poor country like Rwanda, that has suffered more than we ever have, if they can do that (comeback), then surely we can do this. We can understand that we must go forward together. We should support our leaders and be patient when they need more time.”
Before departing the crowd of well-wishers, Clinton added, “Face the facts, face the past, face the present and go into the future together.”
Mirna Vasquez of Queens got a high-five from Clinton as he exited the hall; Vasquez said of the encounter, “I was very excited to see him.” Asked if she got to enjoy a few words with the former President, she replied, “No, I just touched his hand. I mean, we really appreciated him being here.”