Dr. Al Vann, a Giant in Black Community Empowerment, Passes Away
Dr. Al Vann, a former member of the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly, passed away on Thursday, July 14th. He was 87 years old. Dr. Vann, a politician and activist who spent almost 40 years representing the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights districts in central Brooklyn, is recognized for his long career in politics and his fight for Black Community Empowerment.
Dr. Vann, a Democrat, held the office of State Assemblyman from 1975 to 2001. He then served on the City Council from 2002 to 2013. Dr. Vann began his career as a teacher and was a key player in the historic, racial-charged clash for local school control in the late 1960s against the teachers union resulting in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Teachers’ Strike of 1968.
Black and Puerto Rican parents wanted better schools and a higher quality education for their children, as well as a seat at the budget and education policy table. The teachers union then exercised their political power and silenced the voices and interests of Black and Puerto Rican parents.
Dr. Vann taught at the Urban Center for Black Studies at Vassar College. He helped form the African American Teachers Association and was one of the founders of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.
He was outspoken in regards to police brutality. Following the police shooting of a Black, unarmed groom-to-be named Sean Bell, Dr. Vann condemned the way Black men were being educated not to incur the wrath of cops in a City Council speech in 2006. Dr. Vann said he had grown weary of attending the funerals of Black men killed at the hands of police.
While serving in the City Council, Dr. Vann spearheaded a successful legal battle against racial gerrymandering and organized voter registration drives that increased Black political power in Brooklyn.
Dr. Vann was a mentor to a generation of politicians, current New York State Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and his chosen successor former City Councilman Robert Cornegy.
Mayor Adams said on Saturday, July 16, 2022, from sunrise to sunset, that all flags were to be flown at half-mast in remembrance of former Assembly member and Council member Dr. Vann. After it was announced that Dr. Vann, a legend, had passed, many shared remarks and memories they had of him and the impact he made on peoples’ lives.
Mayor Adams issued a statement following the news of his passing saying, “Al Vann was a real mentor to me and countless others in our administration and across the landscape of civic life. He was a very special and dear friend, and we all sit on his shoulders of leadership.
Still on Dr. Al Vann’s death…
As an educator and a trailblazer in public service, Al was a tireless champion of civil rights and Black community empowerment in Central Brooklyn and beyond. He not only impacted the city, but our entire country, and we’re better because of him. He was a giant, and we are all going to miss him.”
Attorney General James shared words about her late mentor as well saying, “After a lifetime of leadership, mentorship, and principle, the honorable Al Vann passed away peacefully last night. While much more will be said about the life and legacy of Al Vann, it is safe to say that Brooklyn and all of New York lost a friend, a leader, and a legend. May he rest in peace.”
Former City Councilman Robert Cornegy, Dr. Vann’s chosen successor in the city council was immensely close to him. Cornegy shared that he feels incredibly blessed to have had Dr. Vann in his life.
He was humbled that Dr. Vann entrusted him to represent the Bed-Stuy community saying, “I was blessed to have Dr. Vann as a mentor which is good and bad because he left some pretty big shoes to fill and a responsibility to act accordingly in a community that continues to need good leadership.
I feel incredibly blessed not to only have known him but to have taken advice from him, to have been given mentorship from him and to be entrusted with the Bed-Stuy community which he loved as much as his family.”
Chris Owens, the eldest son of the late Congressman Major Owens said, “There was no leader like Al Vann. He was a man with many plans and he never planned to fail. Al Vann was an institution builder, not someone who just talked about building things. He was one of the most significant Black leaders New York State has ever had.”
Rest In Power Dr. Vann.