On a cold evening in Brooklyn, New York, over 300 people gathered inside Trinity Lutheran Church for a special Black History month event dedicated to Oscar López Rivera, the longest held political prisoner in Puerto Rican history. The historic event, convened by a group of local leaders, featured an inspiring dialogue between Reverend Samuel Cruz, Senior Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, José López, Executive Director of Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center and brother of Oscar, and Dr. Cornel West, one of the most important public intellectuals in U.S. society and expert on the Black religious and political tradition. In the audience were several special guests, including Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, newly minted New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-
Building on a public conversation between Reverend Cruz and Dr. West held in Puerto Rico last year, the evening was filled with lessons about the meaning of solidarity, the importance of hope in political struggle, and, above all, the centrality of love and commitment to the cause of freedom. At the center of these lessons was Oscar, an incarcerated patriot of the Puerto Rican people that commands the love, respect, and support of a countless number of people around the world.
Rev. Cruz commenced the dialogue making clear the purpose of the conversation: the immediate freedom of Oscar. Receiving a standing ovation, Dr. West began by invoking the legendary Black sociologist and political figure, W.E.B. Du Bois, and posing questions about how the oppressed could confront oppressors without compromising their humanity, love, and ethics. Distinguishing those that raised their “voice” against injustice with those that merely “echo,” he drew parallels between the Black and Puerto Rican experience. Throughout his commentary, Dr. West paid homage to Puerto Rican national figures the likes of Ramón Emeterio Betances, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, and Julia De Burgos, and visionaries of the Black Freedom movement the likes of Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Malcolm X
One of the most powerful moments of the evening was when José López described how Oscar’s survived and, in a sense, transcended his twelve year long placement in a sensory deprivation control unit at the U.S. Penitentiary Marion. Oscar, his brother told the audience, transformed his imposed isolation into a choice of solitude, thereby refusing to allow his jailers to break his mind and spirit. Mr. López also read a moving letter from Oscar to Dr. West.