Recently, I was asked to deliver the keynote remarks at Bishop Dr. Timothy Birkett’s 74th birthday banquet celebration. Bishop Birkett and I have known each other for almost 25 years. During the banquet, Bishop Birkett surprised me with a plaque commemorating my years of legislative and community service. The text of my remarks follow below.
It is a great honor to be here in praise of Bishop and Churchman extraordinaire Timothy Birkett. I offer my initial greetings to his family who have so graciously shared him with us and the countless New Yorkers he has helped.
Before he passed just short of his 100th birthday, the realtor and philanthropist Elias M. Karmon was called “Mr. Bronx.” I’d venture to say that Bishop Birkett has also earned the title “Mr. Bronx.”
I have known our honoree for almost 25 years. While I cannot quite recall when Bishop Birkett and I first met, I have no doubt that it centered on helping people. From immigration assistance to voter registration to education, Bishop Birkett is a passionate and energetic advocate.
Pastor Birkett is well-known to Presidents, governors, mayors, foreign dignitaries, legislators, and commissioners. He is a presence on radio and television, community forums, and government task forces.
It is no surprise that Bishop Birkett oversees four ethnic congregations: African, Spanish, Korean, and English-speaking Caribbean, which alone has attendees from Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Kitts.
One newspaper wrote of Bishop Birkett,
“He heads one of the leading congregations taking a holistic approach in providing for the physical and spiritual needs of immigrants in the Bronx. Since 1987, Pastor Timothy Birkett, whose parents emigrated from Barbados, has helped 30,000 immigrants.”
Bishop Birkett was among the first to acknowledge that churches and immigrants need one another. He said that we need to realize that immigrants and their cultures are assets and will always help to make America a great country. Immigrants operating small businesses have revitalized once blighted areas of the Bronx.
My own journey here tonight has been a long winding road. Rev. Birkett has unexpectedly appeared on that road at different times over the past 25 years.
God anoints certain people to play specific roles in our lives. I believe Bishop is one of those people. My wife Kennedy is another. Another was Jim Roundtree who ran the St. Benedict the Moor Center. Jim’s advice led to my taking a job when I needed one. They are among the five people we meet on our way to Heaven. [There is a terrific film called The Five People You Meet On Your Way To Heaven. Rent it today.]
I’ve always believed that everyone is anointed by God, at some time their life, to do His will. It can be as simple as giving directions to a stranger who has lost her way. It could be having the vision to start an immigration assistance service or bringing a charter school to a low performing school district. It could be writing a book that changes the trajectory of someone’s life. Or it could be being elected to pubic office or stepping down from that public office.
Since leaving public office, I’ve embarked on a part-time career as an op-ed writer, web commentator and blogger. It’s a way to still air my views on a range of subjects and public policy issues, such as health care and the high abortion rate in the Bronx.
This month, the effort to legalize same-sex marriage is heating up. As a Member of the Assembly, I opposed legalization then and continue to do so today. The argument against same-sex marriage is well known and does not need repeating here. It is not a civil rights issue similar to the struggles for black civil rights and an end to chattel slavery.
If we continually give in every private want and desire, where will that leave us? Will we return to plural marriage? [I don’t know about you but being married to one woman is all I could handle.] Will the state be called upon to sanction incestuous marriage simply because the persons involved profess love for each other? The answer is no but only if people of faith stand up and shout with the soul force of Gabriel’s horn will traditional marriage be preserved.
When I was in the Assembly, two things sustained me. One was my wife, Kennedy, whose love and deep spirituality were both humbling and uplifting to me. Second, were the mostly anonymous prayer cards from New Yorkers. Love, marriage, and our faith, plus that of others, wrapped me like armor. [That armor had a lot of dings and dents in it.] So it was no surprise that last year’s National Day of Prayer rally in Albany was where I announced my decision to leave public office.
Today, a few of my former colleagues are awaiting trial for political and personal corruption. I ask that you pray for them and the jurors that will sit in judgment. Also, pray for those legislators who are being tempted to take that road to perdition. We can not prosper as a people, if those who stand in leadership are corrupt and broken people.
But today is Bishop Birkett’s day and I will not delay any further our celebration of his anointing and his life service to our state, city and community. Lastly, we need to ask God to anoint many more men and women such as Bishop Birkett, so our people will not go wandering without watchful shepherds.
Good evening and may God bless all of us.