“This is not a commemoration, this is a celebration,” Crowley said to kick off the evening.
The night began with a spiritual performance from the Antioch Baptist Church Choir followed by the singing of the national anthem by Borough President Melinda Katz. Although Katz had to make an early exit, she didn't leave without giving the 300 attendees her words of hope and inspiration.
“We are the borough of Queens and we are a diverse borough and it’s part of what makes us the great place that we are,” Katz said.
While Crowley went to find McCray, Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey was pulled on stage for an impromptu speech.
“When you come to East Elmhurst, you come to a place that is history and that, we are very proud of,” Aubrey said.
Malcolm X, Willy Mays, Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong were some of the prominent African American figures that lived in the East Elmhurst neighborhood.
"It’s a place where people of African descent have come because it was an open place,” Aubrey said. “A place that welcomed them in a time that they weren’t welcomed everywhere. So those of you that are coming here for maybe the first time, welcome to a place that will welcome you.”
With Aubrey’s final words, McCray took to the stage and warmly opened with greetings from her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Throughout her speech, she spoke eloquently of the changes she hopes can be made. In particular, she noted her husband's plan for universal prekindergarten and improved after-school programming as a top priority.
"Education is the civil rights issue of today, but now we have an opportunity to set things right," McCray said. “Education is the road to equality in citizenship that has been made more elusive than many other rights. I’m not here to just tell you about the obstacles we face. I’m here to tell you how we can improve the odds.”