A Life Well-Lived: Politicians and Community Members Gather to Honor Community Culture-Keeper Dr. Sam Pinn

2nd Line: Eugene Ghee – Tenor sax, Ricardo Stroibert – Alto sax, Reggie Woods – Tenor sax, Duke Jones - Trumpet, Tyrone Cox – Trumpet, Terry Brown – Tenor sax, Robert Rutledge – Trumpet, Lesidi – Trumpet, Don Echoles – Piccolo, Riley Mullins - Trumpet. Photo: Lauryn Jackson (c) 2018


Hundreds gathered in memoriam for community activist and culture keeper Dr. Samuel Pinn, Jr. There was no shortage of positive reflection on the life of this highly revered community leader. Politicians, community leaders and clergymen alike all gave testimony to just how much of a community giant, literally (he was over 6 feet tall) and figuratively, Dr. Sam Pinn was. Even the founder of Black Enterprise magazine, Earl Graves, was in attendance and waved in honor of his childhood friend. As was evidenced by those who spoke and came to the memorial decked in their best African garb, Dr. Pinn was a force to be reckoned with and did great work for his community. Dr. Pinn has an outstanding resume filled with decades of much-needed and greatly appreciated community work and social activism.

Opening the memorial was a libation given in a Yoruba dialect. That was followed by a formal prayer where all were asked to bow their heads. Afterwards, longtime friend and mentee of Dr. Pinn, retired Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, remembered him as being a “gentle giant” who was both “loyal and reliable.” She also spoke on his work with Jazz966, a cultural arts program that he founded in 1990 while serving as the chairman of the Fort Greene Community Council. She concluded by saying that Dr. Pinn’s life was essentially “a life well-lived and a life shared.”

Retired Assemblyman and City Councilman Al Vann gave yet another perspective of just how impactful of a man Dr. Pinn was. In some ways, mirroring what others before him had said, Al Vann stated, “It is incredible what one person can do in a lifetime,” in referring to his friend.   He also recalled Dr. Pinn being a fearless man who was the go-to guy “when we had a confrontation with the cops,” and that “in Sam I saw no fear, a courageousness, it almost scared me…never before had I seen someone so without fear in such a moment of great peril.” Like the Honorable Annette Robinson, former Assemblyman Al Vann also reflected on Dr. Pinn’s community work, noting specifically that, “He was the founder of a great community institution that still exists today, the Fort Greene Community Council, Inc.” Vann added that Dr. Pinn was instrumental in the creation of “senior citizen centers all across Brooklyn.” Assemblyman Vann concluded by saying, “Sam was a man of consequence…committed to improving lives of others. That’s how he lived and that will be his legacy.”


Sam Pinn’s son Gregory Pinn, also spoke highly of his father. Specifically, Gregory said that his father had been a “dedicated member to the fraternity Omega Psi Phi for over forty years.” Pinn’s son also remembered the “genuine camaraderie that he had with his brothers, Q’s and Omegas.” Shortly thereafter, in breathtaking fashion, Dr. Pinn’s fraternity brothers marched down the aisle of the auditorium where the memorial was held, in honor of their brother. They stood in a long line near the front of the stage and sung “Precious Lord.” The fraternity members present took turns reading personalized dedications to Pinn that varied in content. Some read dedication poems, others spoke to specific examples of how Pinn had touched their lives. From their tribute, audience members learned that Pinn joined Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Epsilon chapter, in Brooklyn, New York on May 9, 1970. Pinn was also described as being a “wise council” and full of enthusiasm. Another one of Pinn’s fraternity brothers likened his passing to a “pearl [that] had shaken loose to rise to even higher heights on Wednesday, December 27, 2017.” Several of the fraternity members said that Pinn was sincerely committed to his fraternity and “exemplified Omega’s cardinal values as a devoted husband, father and grandfather.”

Peggy Washington, a self-described niece of Pinn, sung a solo which she said was one of her uncle’s favorite songs, “The Wind Beneath my Wings.” Candace Pinn, Pinn’s daughter-in-law, spoke, reflecting on, among other things, how Pinn had “lived in the same house for 82 years.” Candace also reflected on Pinn being “super connected to his roots, a road dog, and the only child of his father.”  She also spoke about his academic achievements, having been a recipient of the New York City public school educational system. For example, Pinn attended PS 70, JHS 35 and Erasmus Hall High School where he was a basketball star. Dr. Pinn also received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Morgan State University, in addition to a Master’s in Social Work from Rutgers University. Candace also stated that her father-in-law had two Doctor of Law degrees. “Sam began his career in social services 60 years ago,” Candace recalled. Moreover, Pinn was the “coordinator of the Bed-Stuy Mayor’s Activist Task Force and the co-founder of the Black United Front,” added Candace. In general, Dr. Pinn was “against mob and police violence against Black people,” Candace said.

Drake Colley – Soprano sax – Leader of 2nd line. Photo: Lauryn Jackson 2018

Reverend Herbert Daughtry also spoke, having worked intimately with Pinn for many decades on several social activist and community upliftment efforts. He began his tribute with a popular rallying cry dating back decades ago, that he and Pinn utilized to mobilize community members to action. The chant went like this: “We’re fired up,” and many audience members responded, “Ain’t going to take it no more.” After a while, even those who may not be familiar with the chant, caught on and consequently the entire room was, fired up yet again all these years later. Rev. Daughtry reflected on Pinn’s work with the National Black United Front, in addition to his being an independent candidate for the state Senate. Rev. Daughtry also spoke briefly about the moment in history that ignited some of Pinn’s activist work, namely the killing of Randy Evans in November of 1970. In closing, Rev. Daughtry remembered getting news of his friend’s death and said, “If I had my way, every cruise, every school, every car would stop and revere Sam Pinn.” He added, “Some people never die, their memory lives on forever.”

Earl Graves, Sr., center, Founder of Black Enterprise Magazine. is accompanied by
his son, Johnnie Graves, left, and Al Vann, former councilman.
Photo: Althea Smith

The Honorable Letitia James, Public Advocate and community daughter to Annette Robinson, also gave remarks. She remembered Dr. Pinn being “a man of few words…sturdy, deliberate silence…did not have to fill up the air with empty words.” The Public Advocate also reflected on Dr. Pinn’s “quiet strength, steady gaze and warm smile,” and understanding that “the ties that bind us as a community must never be broken.” She also commented that “spirituality, religion, music and jazz” are all “central tenants in the life of African-Americans.”  It is for that reason that Public Advocate James stressed that the Fort Greene Community Council, “a place where you breathe life into Black people,” must remain open. She concluded in saying about Dr. Pinn, in essence, “His legacy must continue, and we children of dreamers must protect these institutions… and [protect] Central Brooklyn against the forces that threaten to destroy us.”

Dr. Pinn also served for 34 years as an esteemed Professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey. As a representative of the college who knew of Pinn’s work, stated, “An endowment will be created in Dr. Sam Pinn’s honor and legacy” at the institution where Dr. Pinn worked for decades.  Others that spoke and reflected on the glorious life of Dr. Sam Pinn include Wynton Marsalis, Jr., who gave a statement on behalf of his father, Wynton Marsalis, Sr. and NYS Regent Dr. Lester Young, Jr., who gave a statement on behalf of Dr. Adelaide Sanford. In addition to Pinn’s children and grandchildren, also present were Borough President Eric Adams, State Committeewoman Olanike Alabi, Judge Ellen Edwards, Job Marshariki, co-founder of Black Veterans for Social Justice, NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Roger Green, Councilwoman Inez Barron and Assemblyman Charles Barron, D.A. Eric Gonzalez and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

Priscilla Mensah covers topics related to improving health, wellness and overall community empowerment. She is also a former Health Reporting Fellow at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and can be reached at pmensahbrooklyn@gmail.com.