December 31, 2016. It is a cold, clear morning as I enter Mt. Olivet Baptist in Harlem for the holiday performance. Feeling the spirit. Optimistic hymns to sing in the new year. As I’m leaving, I recall the last time I heard gospel music in a black church.
1985, late winter. On the train in from Manhattan, I thought about Caesar. I’d seen him maybe once or twice since the election. Did we “know” each other? Not in the traditional sense of knowing each other’s families or where we went to high school. We’d both worked daily on a scrappy insurgent campaign in 1982, Lorraine Stevens for State Assembly. Me, trying to coordinate the work of the motley volunteer staff. He, walking the streets gathering petition signatures or handing out flyers. A middle-class white guy and a working-class black man, brothers in arms for a moment. “I guess neither of us live in Brooklyn anymore,” I said quietly to no one in particular.
I decided to go at the last minute. Wasn’t feeling well and was conflicted about showing up among his family and friends. I wouldn’t know anybody there. Maybe met some of them once or twice back in ‘82. But this was for Caesar. So I took the subway ride, traipsed through the snow and slush for several blocks, and walked up the three broken marble steps into the poor working class church in Bedford-Stuyvesant.