By Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College

On behalf of the family and friends of the Center for Black Literature, we offer our condolences to the family of Dr. Al Vann, a giant and fearless leader in our community. Al Vann was a wise, observant, analytical, strategic, visionary, and humble leader. He was a beacon in our community and served it in many ways: as an elected official, institution builder, educator, and political strategist. He was one of the founders of our beloved Medgar Evers College. He also helped to found Boys and Girls High School and the Vannguard Urban Improvement Association. The impact of his leadership was widespread and he influenced many elected and government officials who are still serving today.

I was introduced to Al Vann 50 years ago in 1972 when I was recruited to work in District 13. When we began to work we were told “Do not join the United Federation of Teachers. They do not have the best interests of Black children at heart.” I will never forget that statement. We were encouraged to join instead the African-American Teachers Association (ATA). Al Vann, along with Ancestor Jitu Weusi, was the pivotal leader in that monumental Black educators’ organization. 

As a young professional, I became very active with the young adult division of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and became President of the Brooklyn chapter of Minority Politically Women. We were extremely active and it was at that point that I realized the importance of being involved in the political arena. 

VIDA, the Vannguard Independent Democratic Association was the example of a young progressive force and that time; and we began to go to the legislative caucus sessions as part of our work and later participated in the Coalition for Community Empowerment which was co-founded by Vann. Vann was a leader in this organization and was also a former Chair of the Coalition for a Just New York and Chair of New Yorkers for Jesse Jackson, the largest group of delegates pledged to Jackson in the nation during the 1984 Presidential campaign. This work had an impact on the historic election of David Dinkins as the first Black mayor of New York City and had an impact on the support for the candidacy of Barack Obama. 

The Center for Black Literature was very pleased to honor Al Vann as a founder of Medgar Evers College at its 10th anniversary celebration. He always worked with us to support both the Center and Medgar Evers College. We were also pleased when Medgar Evers College presented Al Vann with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters. We know the College and University will also honor his passing in appropriate and sustaining ways to preserve his legacy.

On June 27, 2022, Dr. Al Vann sent a farewell message to the community. In that letter, he stated that he was in good spirits and would continue to live his life as fully as possible. His statement was inspirational and spoke to the man and leader he was and has been for decades. He was making “good trouble” and his commitment to the community and to the lives of Black people was unwavering. I admired how in the midst of the obstacles he was facing he continued to embody servant leadership and how he maintained a nurturing embrace.

John Lewis told us:  

“Take a long, hard look down the road you will have to travel once you have made a commitment to work for change. Know that this transformation will not happen right away. Change often takes time. It rarely happens all at once.” 

Dr. Al Vann, our leader, reminded us of that “long road” by continuing to work on the path towards empowerment for our community. We can do that now by continuing to work on addressing the erosion of democracy and democratic values in our nation. We must look at what we can do to ensure that people come up to vote. We must make sure that our youth are socially and politically aware and understand the importance and power of their voices and actions. We must collectively advocate for racial, social, and environmental justice. Dr. Vann called us to action. There is power in collective voices and actions. We are in a position to effect change. Let us not forget the Call to Action that he gave us. 

A Great Tree has fallen. Let us

remember to always say his name and

honor his rich and enduring legacy.

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