Larry Williams held the arm of Dr. Frances L. Brisbane as she walked slowly onto the stage of the Riverhead Free Library’s media room on Sunday.
The crowd looked on as the renowned social advocate and presidential award recipient turned to address the dozens who gathered to honor the life and memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Leave despair at home,” said Brisbane, dean of the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University. “Racism will not be permitted to trump determination.”
Brisbane, a woman of dignified poise and mannerisms, quickly commanded the room, which echoed with “Amen” and applause as she spoke of the sociopolitical advancements civil rights activists like King fought so hard for.
The accomplished author, mentor and scholar was invited to speak at the 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Program, which is hosted by the East End Voters Coalition. The coalition works to educate black Long Islanders about the issues affecting their lives and to encourage them to vote in local and national elections.
Her words reflected the many ways that life has changed for black Americans since the time of King and his campaign for non-violent protest in the 1960s. She also voiced her disappointment in the low black voter turnout during recent elections, and stressed the importance of every single vote.
“Complacency should not be a part of our vocabulary,” Brisbane said.
According to Brisbane, black Americans have thousands of role models to look up to, including local members of state government and President Obama. She said these individuals can inspire children to emulate the positive actions of those who came before them.
“Dr. Brisbane laid a blueprint for our future,” said Williams, the co-chairman of the EEVC. “If we continue to follow the teachings of Dr. Brisbane, our future can only get better.”
The program was held on what would have been King’s 83rd birthday. White encouraged attendants to remember what Martin Luther King Day represents. King was assassinated in April of 1968 at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
“Ms. Brisbane is a testament to what Martin Luther King Jr. saw that we can do and what we can achieve,” said Vicki Taylor, 54, of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. “The dream lives on – we just have to continue to believe in it.”