Harlem Week Gala Celebrates the Life and Legacy of NYC's First Black Mayor David N. Dinkins

The private reception and gala saluted the life, contributions, and legacy of the Honorable David N. Dinkins.

Columbia Neighbors
August 31, 2021

The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with Harlem Week, hosted a private reception and gala saluting the life, contributions, and legacy of the Honorable David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first Black Mayor, and longtime Columbia University faculty member, who passed away in November 2020.

Held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the event included a reception and a 2-hour program with reflections from Rev. Dennis Dillion, NAACP State Conference President Dr. Hazel Dukes, Rev. Jacques DeGraff, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, former New York Gov. David Paterson, retired U.S Rep. Charles B. Rangel, Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Harlem Chamber President Lloyd Williams.

Praise flowed for Dinkins’ accomplishments and legacy. “David Dinkins and the rest of the famous "Gang of Four" were instrumental in the creation of Harlem Day (now Harlem Week) 47 years ago. He was a Board Member of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, our mentor, and big brother,” Williams said.

“Dinkins is the only mayor in New York City to ever leave office with a budget surplus,” Paterson proclaimed. “It was my honor to be his friend and help him in any way I could.”

“Dave Dinkins was the road that ultimately led to the election of Barack Obama,” Sharpton added. “There was David Dinkins talking about the gorgeous mosaic that made many of us understand when Obama said ‘Yes, we can,’ because we had done it in New York under David Dinkins.”

Vocalist Elijah Ahmad Lewis performed, accompanied by Music Director Kenny Seymour from “Ain't Too Proud.” A 16-page historic commemorative was distributed to guests following the program with a biography and photographs of Dinkins. 

The program also included video salutes from New York State Sen. Brian Benjamin, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, New York State Assembly member Inez Dickens, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Attorney General Letitia James, former New York State Sen. H. Carl McCall, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, and New York County Leader Keith Wright. 

“I’m not able to be the Democratic nominee for mayor of the City of New York because of who I am," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, but because "I am walking in the spirit of David Dinkins."

"To me, he was a friend and an advisor whose wise counsel I sorely miss. I’ll always remember his support, his guidance, and his empathy," Bollinger said. "His passing marks the end of an era, but his legacy endures, in his children and grandchildren, in his students and mentees, in the university he enriched with his presence, and in the city to which he devoted his life."

“I turn to the amazing words of another great New Yorker, Langston Hughes, who wrote these words, ‘O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath—America will be!’ And David Dinkins swore that oath every single day of his life,” Schumer said. “He was a great man because he never wavered from his values.”

A video of the full gala presentation has been made available for download and photos of attendees can be found at CovantNYC.