The Legacy of Dr. Carlos Russell – Black Solidarity Day

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Dr. Carlos Russell

Black Solidarity Day was celebrated throughout the land on Monday, November 5, on the eve of Election Day at a gathering in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.

Dr. Carlos Russell, the celebration’s founder, was honored by politicians, clergy, activists, and community folks in a ceremony sponsored by The National Action Network and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

In 1969, Dr. Russell was inspired to organize a day of solidarity for Black people after seeing Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence”.  This play told the story of a small southern town crippled by the absence of the Black population, the backbone of its commerce.  This absence demonstrated to Russell the power of Black spending and its effect on the economy.  Thus, Black Solidarity Day was born.  He asked that Black people not attend school or work, and abstain from shopping in White establishments for one day – the eve of November elections.

The vote and Black unity was the prevailing theme that evening.  The speakers covered the spectrum of public service.   Reverend Al Sharpton was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, but was unable to attend.  In his place, Michael Hardy, attorney for National Action Network, accepted Sharpton’s citation.  Hardy said that Dr. Russell believed much like Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who asked “What’s in your hand?”  Hardy asked that we not forfeit the opportunity to cast your ballot – vote.  He also reminded us that Dr. Russell understood and stressed Black Solidarity and its economic impact.  Hardy pointed out Brother Leonard Bentley, one of the many activists in the audience.  He is a proud National Action Network member, a devotee of Malcolm X who attended OAAU weekly lectures.  He was at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 when Malcolm was assassinated.

Reverend Herbert Daughtry, House of the Lord church pastor said that Dr. Russell was a dear and close friend he knew for many years.  Daughtry described the events leading up to the formation of Black Solidarity Day.  He called the names and dates of the many young Black children who had been killed by police.  As is the case today, no one was held accountable.  He joined with Russell to demonstrate against this outrage at a march on Wall Street, the symbol of capitalism.  They pointed out the economic connection between racism and profits in our society. 

Several other impactful speakers left inspiring messages.   Their comments showed how little had changed since 1969.

Former Assemblyman Roger Greene reminded the audience that Dr. Russell said, “racism without power to back it up ain’t nothing, and “the antidote to that pathology is Black solidarity.  He also quoted the Honorable Marcus Garvey who coined the slogan “forward ever, backwards never.” Greene said “We’d better get out there and protect ourselves against this White supremacy.”

Former Assemblywoman Annette Robinson said that, “The greatest in our midst sometimes we don’t even understand who and what they do.”  She spoke about Dr. Russell’s involvement in establishing the Bradway School.  She thanked Dr. Russell and said he was such a learned man.  Robinson called for unity now more than we ever needed before.  She asked, “Let 2018 be our seminal moment to come together, reorganize and restructure because we’ve become like Humpty Dumpty.  Let’s make sure things work for us.”

 City Councilman Jumanne Williams spoke on his recent “almost made it” run for Lieutenant Governor.  He thanked everyone for voting for him.  He also spoke about the press conference at the African Burial Ground protesting its recent desecration.  Williams became aware of Black Solidarity Day as a student at Brooklyn College when he had an opportunity to meet Dr. Russell.  He said that the system of racism is real, and that we have to acknowledge it.  He added, “We can start moving in the right direction if we all come out and vote in the name of Dr. Russell.”

Dr. J.M. Cody, Chair of NAN’s Education Committee, introduced Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.  He presented a citation to Dr. Russell’s children for his contributions to the betterment of Black people and, of course, the establishment of Black Solidarity Day.  Adams announced his intention of rebridging the Gory Island gap on behalf of all Brooklynites.

Brother Conder of NAN said that many of us thought that racism was not prevalent after Obama’s election and failed to vote in 2016.  He said, “Instead of shock, this should be a wake up call for tomorrow.  Our democracy is broken, but we must fix it.”  He then gave a message to young people not to be cynical, but make the change you want to see happen.  Conder reiterated what Annette Robinson said about if ever there was a time to vote, it’s now.

Entertainment was provided by Brother Nubian, who excerpted stanzas from Dr. Russell’s 6-page poem “Africana Soil”.  It was spiritual, moving and set the tone for the rest of the evening with a proud refrain after each stanza claiming “I am Black, I am Panamanian, I am African”.  Sister Rebecca Townsley did a great job singing Yolanda Adam’s “I Will Open Up My Heart”.

Youth was the missing ingredient in this evening honoring the legacy of Dr. Russell.  Youth will be the torch carriers.  Dr. Cody said that Dr. Russell reminded her constantly to “You keep that fire in the belly!”  In Dr. Russell’s name, let’s assure that this honorable fighter for rights, justice and equality will be known and honored for generations to come.  Reach out to our young to assure they know of the many “Dr. Russells” in our history, and the importance of their messages to our very survival as proud African people.  Hopefully, next year the audience will be full of youthful faces celebrating what we all know of Dr. Carlos Russell, and keeping that “fire in the belly.”

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