Only moments after a notice that Al Vann had joined the ancestors, tributes began appearing on social and mainstream media for the former assemblyman and city council member. Vann, deemed a political bedrock of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, died peacefully on Thursday. He was 87.
Attorney General Letitia James told the Amsterdam News, “He was my mentor and changed the trajectory of my life. A political giant that transformed the political landscape empowering communities of color fostering an environment that made it possible for me and others to serve in office. I will be eternally grateful for his vision. He now rests in peace from his labor.”
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was super special! The original Mr. Cool! He was a giant of a man in every sense of the word. It was my good fortune, nay, it was my special blessing, to have been associated with him for many years. In his own words, upon his final hours, ‘We made a difference! We turned things around!’ It’s hard for me to think of Al without thinking of Jitu and Sam. We were the ‘Gang of Four.’ So long, Al—may God send a band of angels to sing to your place in paradise!”
As word permeates that there will be a private family funeral, there is to be a memorial service for Vann next month, friends, family, and former colleagues are offering remembrances.
“We called him ‘Vann the man!’ His cool demeanor was profoundly matched with his ‘quiet fire!’’’ said Councilman Charles Barron and former Assemblywoman/Councilwoman Inez Barron in a joint statement to the Amsterdam News.
Charles Barron continued, “I thank God that I had the opportunity to serve the people with him in the Black United Front and in the NYC council! Inez had the privilege of working with him in the African American Teachers Association as they fought for community control of schools. Inez and I had the honor to visit him two days before he made his transition! There was spirited reminiscing and a whole lot of love and respect! Rest in peace and power my Brother for a job well done! You will be sorely missed!”
“Al Vann was a true pioneer of the progressive movement in New York Politics,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “His involvement from the ’70s going forward gave real strength to a new era of not only electing people of color, Black and Latino, but people of a progressive political bent.
“We cannot tell the story of political empowerment in Brooklyn without the name of Al Vann being higher on the list of those that made a difference and did so longer and stronger than most. Though he and I did not always agree on local races, we always agreed on the goal, and it was a sign of his statesmanship and political maturity that we could disagree without being disagreeable.
“One of the proud moments I’ve had, was when he stood on the steps of City Hall as a city councilman and endorsed me for president of the United States in 2004; giving us a model that just because you may have differences on some local issues it is the big objective that is important.
“Al Vann never became confused or distracted from the big objective, which is why we must always salute this giant of a man that made us all better. May he rest in Peace and Power!”
During a radio interview with Imhotep Gary Byrd on his Sunday morning show last week, Daughtry fondly recalled the years working with Vann and watching him grow in political awareness. “In the summer of 1977, Sam Pinn, Al Vann, Jitu Weusi, and I began to meet and to set aside one morning a week just to analyze and evaluate our political situation and to plan for better conditions.”
That memory was consistent with what the reverend had written in his book “No Monopoly on Suffering,” when he reflected on Vann’s role in building a movement. “Al Vann was thoughtful and theoretical,” he wrote, “and was to receive the political credibility and power generated from our movement, and he, in turn, agreed to serve the people.”
And serving the people he did with vigor and insight as a state assemblyman from 1975 to 2001 and as councilman from 2002 to 2013. No matter where he hung his political cap the unswerving integrity followed and not an issue of community importance escaped his scrutiny, his commitment.
Again, we turn to Rev. Daughtry as he recounted a significant victory by Vann in 1982. “Vann had been the assemblyman for six years in [the 56th District] and had served the community well,” he wrote. “His independent, honest, effective political work endeared him to most Blacks, even those beyond the confines of his district…[he] was a troublesome crusader to Machiavellian Black politicians, and he was a thorn in the side of white machine politicians.” The good reverend was summarizing the political differences then at play in the district culminating in an attempt to nullify Vann’s clout. To offset that move, Vann decided to run on the Liberal Party line.
When the race was over Vann was victorious, having overcome what Rev. Daughtry described as the combined efforts of the “white political machine and Black Uncle Toms.”
This phase was characteristic of Vann’s long and productive career as a political stalwart in Brooklyn where he was born Nov. 19, 1934. He earned his B.A. degree from Toledo University and master’s degree from Yeshiva University and Long Island University. “Al Vann was the ultimate hometown hero,” noted the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, where he was a founding member. “Before launching his political career, he rose to the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps…and taught in New York City public schools and became an administrator.”
He was also an outstanding hoops star at Franklin Lane High School.
From the 181st to the 194th he sat on state legislatures, always making his presence known, voicing his concerns about what laws were favorable for his constituency. When the city council enacted term limits, Vann exchanged seats with Annette Robinson. In 2001, he was elected to the council and Robinson was elected to the assembly in 2002 to fill the vacancy. In these capacities he was a relentless foe of racial gerrymandering.
Former colleague Assemblywoman/Councilwoman Annette Robinson told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was thoughtful and deliberative and wise. He was my political partner for over 40 plus years. He expanded the political landscape. His quest for social and economic justice created various coalitions. The Coalition for a Just NY and the Coalition for Community Empowerment. Both of these coalitions were to increase political representation and exercise self determination. Al Vann believed in the people and the people believed in him. THANK YOU AL FOR YOUR FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT!”
“Al Vann was a real mentor to me and countless others, in our administration and across the landscape of civic life,” Mayor Eric Adams said. “He was a very special and dear friend, and we all sit on his shoulders of leadership.” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams voiced a similar encomium, noting, “Today, a pillar of our community has passed away. New York City will remember Al Vann as a public servant, one who created real, transformative progress for the people of his district and all of New York City state.” Wayne Devonish, co-founder of 500 Making a Difference, told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was a true public servant who really loved his people and community. He connected with me and supported me when I knew nobody. He saw my sincerity for service and gave me real support. He was among the best of us!”
“Al Vann, a man who always focused his energies for the betterment of the community,”
said Thomas Watkins, the publisher of New York’s Daily Challenge.
Daniel Goodine, co-founder of Men Elevating Leadership, told the Amsterdam News, “Yes, it’s a great loss for those of us in the movement. We lost a brother that knew plight and the fight. He was key and someone one that was approachable. He will be missed.”
“Dr. Vann’s life work was about the true, holistic liberation of his people,” said Assemblymember of the 56th District Stefani L. Stefani. “He set the standard and provided a blueprint through the founding of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), Medgar Evers College, the Community Advisory Board, and an Age-Friendly district. He is the model from which we can glean as we assume the mantle of freedom, charging forth with vigor to achieve equity and liberty.
“This district is forever changed for the better because of his groundbreaking legislation that empowered people like me and people in this district to be the architects of our freedom and to build thriving communities that served our needs.
“As the villages of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, the state of New York, and those dedicated to liberation worldwide who loved and respected the man, the mission, and the movement, prepare to celebrate his life and legacy, let us be resolved that we are now Vann and we stand as the VANN-guard against the ongoing onslaught of racism, racial terror, deed theft, maternal morbidity, miseducation and curricular violence, and the devastating wealth gap.
….It is up to us to harness our collective power.”
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation too is mourning the “beloved founding member of Restoration’s board of directors and Brooklynite who mentored younger generations of up-and-coming leaders in New York politics and within the grassroots community.
“Our 50-year relationship with Al began during his tenure on our board and extended into his work as a state Assemblyman (1975-2001) and NYC Councilman (2002-2013), having retired due to expired term limits.
“His legacy and achievements will forever be tethered to Restoration’s mission to improve the lives of Black people who are locked out of opportunities to build wealth through unfair lending practices, employment, and other discriminatory policies. He founded and led the African American Teachers Association and argued successfully for the diversification of educators that resulted in the recruitment of more Black teachers in marginalized Brooklyn schools and was co-founder of CUNY’s Medgar Evers College.”
Restoration continued, “Al Vann was the ultimate hometown hero. Before launching his political career, he rose to the rank of sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in education, taught in New York City public schools, and became an administrator.
“Throughout his service in the New York City Council serving on the education, economic development, finance, health, land use, rules, privileges, and election committees, he always kept Restoration top of mind and remained a confidante and friend to our past presidents and chief executive officers. And much of the progress we have made and sustained over the decades wouldn’t have been possible if not for stalwart advocates like Al Vann.”
Restoration concluded, “We celebrate his legacy as a civil rights advocate, legend, American hero, and stellar community organizer dedicated to justice and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”