By Mary Alice Miller
It began two years ago, when the congregation of New Life Tabernacle sought to watch the historic election returns that culminated with Barack Obama winning the presidency. They rented a large flat-screen television for the event. The not-so-simple contract contained a rent-to-own interest rate of 400-500%. Two year later, Governor David Paterson signed into law the strongest rent-to-own consumer protections in the country.
Rev. Robinson was honored at New Life Tabernacle for his efforts leading to the change. He preached, marched, testified at public hearings, and got himself arrested. Family, friends, elected and appointed officials gathered to celebrate Robinson’s achievement.
NYPD Chief Gerald Nelson, Brooklyn North, called Rev. Robinson “a close friend and a hard working advocate. He chose a path the activist way. If I have to be arrested to turn this injustice around, to fight this battle, then I will sacrifice myself. Each time that happened, we made sure he went through the process nicely. We need people like Taharka Robinson who are willing to sacrifice, go out and do the things to make our community that much safer. We have a spokesperson, a fighter like Taharka Robinson who goes out and gives his all – offers himself away from his family – to fight for those causes.” Nelson acknowledged Bishop Eric Figueroa and his wife for “the great work that he does for those causes that affect our community.”
Councilwoman Letitia James recounted an incident when “bullets were flying outside this church, it was the Chief that kept the members here safe. He assured that there were police officers patrolling around this ‘armor of Zion’. On behalf of the members of New Life Tabernacle, James thanked Chief Nelson.
Errol Louis, the new anchor of NY1, congratulated Robinson. Louis recalled Robinson asked him to witness situations that were “kind of hairy, even for a journalist. Going into certain housing projects, staring down gang members. I want to say to the church, you have a gem. He has the heart of a lion. He wants to fight for you and this community. That is good enough for me. I want to acknowledge the work of Kirsten Foy, Bishop Figueroa, Chief Nelson, and Council member James “What they have done [regarding Rent-a-Center] is really important. We are talking about consumer rip-offs; the things that bleed the money, life and hope out of the community one transaction at a time. To put a spotlight on it, to put a halt to it, to turn it around may not be flashy, may not make a lot of big headlines, is important. These are folks who are going to turn this community around.”
Public Advocate Bill deBlasio told the congregation it has much to be proud of, including its role in the community. “We are honoring two of the new breed of activists who combine their spiritual life and their community life
seamlessly and give us much hope. When you see a new generation of leaders rising, it reminds you anything is possible.” DeBlasio said he has seen Rev. Taharka Robinson from “his early days as apolitical activist; a guy who was ready to go knock on every door to get the job done. Now, he is more and more a leader every day. I remembered first meeting Kirstem Foy when he was a student activist; now he is someone who is changing the face of this city, and has the energy and creativity to make a huge difference.” This is a day to be “very proud and hopeful,” said de Blasio. He presented plaques with the gold seal of the Public Advocate’s office to Rev. Robinson, Bishop Figueroa and Kirsten Foy.
Assembly woman Annette Robinson said as a young child Taharka “was watching when we fought for Randolph Evans; when were went out on Eastern Parkway after Gavin Cato was killed. There were so many others we stood for, because we believe in justice. It was always a bitter sweet moment for me each time he stood out and said ‘I am going to get arrested.’ The fruits of his labor have been born. Legislation had been offered, but nothing had happened to it. It was at a stand still. He came and got involved. He outworked seasoned legislators up in Albany. He worked both houses. He talked to people I didn’t even talk to. He talked to the and said ‘We need to get this legislation passed.’
A good climate came to be; the Senate and Assembly was in sink. We didn’t have a [democratic] majority on the Senate side before. Taharka went up there and put it together. It was a joyous day when we passed the legislation. Taharka is the youngest in our family. He has soared to the front of the class in his activism and spiritual development. We thank God for the journey, and the love, concern and commitment he continues to use each and every day.”
During her remarks, Assemblywoman Robinson noted that “Every day we see those RAC trucks in our community going to someone’s house. So, we don’t know where the bedbugs came from.”
Councilwoman James presented a proclamation from the City Council and from State Senator Charles Schumer. When his young daughter Mea sang “Never Could Have Made It,” Rev. Robinson beamed with pride as he fought back tears of joy.
Rev. Conrad Tillard from Nazarine Congregational Church said he was compelled to pay tribute to “these great men of God. Bishop Figueroa is wise enough to know you have to train young ministers coming behind you, like Taharka Robinson.”
Bishop Figueroa told an amusing story of how Rev. Robinson got the governor’s personal cell phone number in order to lobby on behalf of getting the legislation signed. “I Thank God for Taharka,” said Figueroa. “He is committed. Speaking to Rev. Robinson, Bishop Figueroa said, “I am proud of you.” To the congregation Figueroa said, “I love Taharka because he is not for sale.” Other large congregations have tried to recruit Rev. Robinson, but he made a commitment to New Life Tabernacle.
Of Kirsten Foy, Bishop Figueroa said “He is a great mind – articulate. There is nothing worse that having unintelligible language representing you. Kirsten is a brilliant young man with a tremendous future.”
Holding up the framed rent-to-own law with the pen Governor Paterson used to sign it, Rev. Taharka Robinson told of going from being “a law breaker to being a law maker.” Robinson recalled the long line of clergy who engaged in the coupling of “evangelism and activism” including Rev. William Augustus Jones, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, and Rev. Al Sharpton who were based in Brooklyn, because “this is the largest concentration of African Americans in the country. “I remain committed to the cause,” said Rev. Robinson.