Last week, State Democratic District Leader Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. was elected President of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA) of Central Brooklyn.
City Council Member and outgoing VIDA President Al Vann was there to extend his blessings and support. So was State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Honorable Assemblyman Roger Green and Honorable Congressman Major Owens—several of Central Brooklyn’s legacy leaders.
Judging from the attendees and supporters, Cornegy’s appointment clearly held a degree of importance. The only problem is, few people outside of that small circle of elected officials even know what a VIDA is. And in 2012, maybe even fewer care.
But more than just a few residents should care about VIDA, and that’s precisely what Cornegy plans to do in his new post: get Central Brooklyn’s residents to care again.
“My goal is to get everybody back in the club, have the necessary conversations take place in a safe environment, and get people to develop laser focus around the issues that matter most,” said Cornegy.
VIDA is not new to Bedford-Stuyvesant nor to Central Brooklyn. The Democratic club originally was established in 1972 as the Vanguard Civic Association, a grassroots community of parents, educators and community leaders waging for more community control over schools in their neighborhoods.
VIDA's force was so galvanizing at the time, it was largely responsible for the election of Al Vann – then, head of the African American Teachers Association-- to the State Assembly in that year’s general election. In fact, Vann polled an unprecedented 2,000-plus votes under the Vanguard Independent Party, in a community registered overwhelmingly Democratic.
Over VIDA’s 40 years of existence, it has continually produced community leaders such as the Hon. Paul Wooten, who currently sits on the Appellate Division of the US Supreme Court; Roger Green, the former Assemblyman for the 57th A.D. and the current director of the Dubois Bunche Center for Public Policy; Dr Esmeralda Simmons and Dr. John Flateau, both members of Medgar Evers College, and several more.
VIDA’s arms of influence extend in several directions across Brooklyn. However, in the last decade or so, the once-vibrant Democratic club appears to have grown all but completely silent.
“VIDA built a very strong power base and civic movement. From its inception, it was a strong staple in the community, and out of that grew the power to elect others. But then when leadership remained stagnant, participation began to wane,” Cornegy said. “I think people have grown dissatisfied with a lot of the remaining leadership and are just ready for things to turn over.”
In addition to a desire for change, Cornegy points to a changing demographic in Central Brooklyn which, if not harnassed, can easily divide a community.
“Al Vann and I often talk about the difference between his demographic, my demographic and other demographics and the challenges of engaging different people around the same issues. We’re still living in a post-racial society, but there has not been that one galvanizing issue that everyone can rally around.
“You’ve got people in Bed-Stuy who are living below the poverty line, and within a one-mile proximity, you’ve got PhD’s who are millionaires. We’re so split and divided, if not by income, you’ve got religions.
“We should be diverse. But varying interests sometimes become barriers to rallying around singular issues. Politicians shouldn’t be the only ones rallying by themselves about something as serious as the living wage; it should be the community members as well.
“My goal is to get everybody back in the club talking about these issues… to get them to work together and understand that you may be financial stable, but not having an adequate living wage also affects you, because the conditions that will result from poverty will affect you, the quality of schools and the crime.”
Cornegy added, in addition to civic empowerment, he wants to use the club's influence to serve as a platform for incubating small business development, entrepreneurship, building economic empowerment.
“In a way, it’s like an evolution back to its beginning, which is about empowerment and institution building,” said Cornegy.
For more information or to get involved in the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association email Robert Cornegy at email@example.com, or drop by their office at 1424 Fulton Street.