“Great is the sun, and wide he goes. Through empty heaven without repose; and in the blue and glowing days. More thick than rain he showers his rays. Though closer still the blinds we pull to keep the shady parlor cool, yet he will find a chink or two to slip his golden fingers through.” (Excerpt from the poem “Summer Sun,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894.)
Although many among us are able to relax, rest and repose, there are those who continue carry on and forge ahead. One such person who I would like to recognize this week is Assemblyman Al Taylor, who was elected to represent the 71st Assembly District in Upper Manhattan in 2017. Taylor follows in the footsteps of the late Herman Denny Farrell, who held that seat for a very long time. Having previously worked under Farrell’s wing as his chief of staff, Taylor is no stranger to the needs, hopes, wishes and dreams of the community. In fact, he has a few dreams of his own.
Taylor’s humble beginnings are like those of so many of the constituents he represents, Or should I say so many New Yorkers? Although raised in New York City, he was born on a farm in North Carolina. He vividly remembers getting out of elementary school in June and the very next day boarding a bus, headed for the farm where he would stay until school began again in the fall. All summer, he would work with his aunt and uncle, tending tobacco, hogs and cotton. He confessed, “I didn’t appreciate the hard work, but now understand how it turned out to be a blessing.”
Growing up as a teen alongside others such as William Allen, who now serves as District Leader, 9th Council District, he was bullied and traumatized and fought for survival. Taylor commented, “I was sure I would die, and I wasn’t afraid to die. I just didn’t want my mother to worry.”
By age 16, Taylor had a criminal record. Yet he somehow became aware of a woman by the name of Dorothy Height, a civil rights activist who became president of the National Council of Negro Women. Height had a major influence on Taylor, helping him to navigate his way from being a “cool guy,” to recognizing he just might have a chance at something bigger in life.
Destiny finally took hold of Taylor’s life when he stood before the late Hon. Bruce Wright. Wright gave Taylor a second chance and at 18 years old, he joined the military; it was the only alternative. By age 19, his hopelessness turned into promise when he was selected to become a member of the military police. For Taylor, who was at first wary that the special honor would be taken away or that someone had made a mistake, “It was a game changer.”
Fast forward. Taylor is all grown up, with a wife and family of his own, and a dream that continues to evolve. In a recent interview, Taylor stated, “My commitment is to level the playing field, so we don’t have to die. We have the opportunity to turn dreams into reality.”
Believing that showing up in numbers count because “when we say nothing, we get nothing,” Taylor organized a Prayer Walk at the Bronx River Housing Projects, and another in the Polo Grounds. Meeting once a week, the people gather together, praying to develop self-esteem, showing one another that we care. Taylor’s message is the same: “We must work in a collective, cohesive manner. The impact of housing, education and employment work hand in hand. If you don’t have a decent house, your education suffers; without education you can’t get decent employment.”
To break the vicious circle, Taylor is enlisting in the help of college presidents to work with high schools and high school principals to work with elementary schools. “Let’s work with what’s in hand now to transform lives,” Taylor said.
Taylor not only talks the talk but also walks the walk. Most recently, he challenged himself to do something he loves to do and apply that energy for a cause. After strategically mapping out his course, Taylor started at the United Nations and began his trek from New York City to Chicago. Walking across New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio and crossing over the boarder of Indiana into Illinois. People along the way felt compelled to show him amazing, incredible love. What was amazing to Taylor was he didn’t suffer any blisters on his feet or encounter any rainstorms.
Taylor stated, “Our children are looking for someone to talk to them. They don’t know how to ask for help or how to approach you, but they want to connect to someone to help them believe.”
People don’t care what you know until they know you care. For Taylor, the mantra is, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Through tenant and block associations, community organizations and supporting our community leaders, and making them accountable, “We have more power than you know.” It’s a game changer.
Until next week…kisses.