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Where to Eat the Best Brunch in NYC

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Estela has a great room during the day — and a killer breakfast sandwich.

Lauded, reviled, and pilloried, brunch is simply breakfast plus lunch, and it’s hard to argue with that. Sometimes you’re after a stellar room, other times it’s all about the mimosas, and occasionally you’re just in the mood for a heaping plate of eggs Benedict — that’s okay, brunch is all about you. All of these are options during the day’s most accommodating meal. Whether you want delicate global plates or gut-busting classics followed by a nap, here are the restaurants serving the best brunches in town.


ABC Kitchen (Union Square)
For: Standards with a green-market bent.
Jean Georges’s sustainability-minded venture is conveniently located in the ABC Home store, so once you’re done with your scrambled eggs with hot-sauce butter, you can go browsing for Scandinavian chandeliers and trendy Ganesh statuettes. Waiters dress casual, tables are decorated with flowers, and the food is extremely well executed. Brunch is still market-driven, but keeps the focus on the standards: seasonal glazed donuts, buttermilk pancakes with lemon curd, and buttermilk and Crawford cheddar biscuits.

Buvette (Greenwich Village)
For: Excellent steamed eggs, and a meal alone at the bar.
The small dining room is always full, and the wait is often longer than you’d like, though the lovely street makes it more tolerable than most. But this is one place where the steamed eggs, made in an espresso machine, are actually different and good enough to justify the meal. Calmest in the early mornings, it’s a great place to perch at the bar by yourself over some simple tartines and croque-monsieurs.

Birds & Bubbles (Lower East Side)
For: A southern-themed, Champagne-soaked morning.
This exceptional fried-chicken-centric restaurant, which has ushered in yet another moment in this seemingly endless comfort-food boom, is the place to go for a southern-themed midday feast in Manhattan. Owner Sarah Simmons, of City Grit, serves the kind of food and drink she likes to eat herself, fare that is informed but not restricted by the South, like sausage gravy empanadas, hominy grits with pozole verde, and a chicken-and-egg biscuit with deviled-egg sauce.

Cherche Midi (Nolita)
For: McNally-style bistro classics.
Heavy-steel doors, soft yellow walls, and a classic mosaic floor decorate this French brassiere on the Bowery, exactingly executed in the time-honored Keith McNally mold. It feels like a Vegas version of McNally’s best restaurants, but that doesn’t mean the bistro cooking isn’t supremely well-done. Brunch is hearty, classic, and comforting, with dishes like an opulent lobster scrambled eggs, a pot de fromage (Parmesan custard with anchovy toast), and a prime-rib burger with bacon marmalade for when you really need to soak up last night’s booze. (And by the way, the brunch at McNally’s older hotspot, Minetta Tavern, is also superb, and it features one of the best French dips you’ll ever eat.

Dimes (Lower East Side)
For: A morning meal that will actually refresh you.
This sunny, health-minded brunch destination and hipster hangout makes the most of macrobiotic eating with nori wraps, pitaya bowls, and black-sesame matcha buns. The new, larger location also boasts a cocktail menu (perhaps a wheatgrass margarita to start the day?).

Estela (Lower East Side)
For: The most culinarily daring brunch in town, and a quieter meal at one of the city’s most popular restaurants.
A small plates and wine hot spot from chef Ignacio Mattos, this bar-restaurant serves what New York restaurant critic Adam Platt calls “the ultimate in brunchtime dining.” Everything is delicious, from the egg, avocado, and pancetta sandwich to trademark Mattos dishes like burrata with salsa verde.

Empellón Taqueria (Greenwich Village)
For: A waffle worth ordering, and the best brunch tacos around.
At this hip, casually elegant, and always buzzing restaurant, former pastry wizard Alex Stupak serves a high concept but, more important, absolutely delicious menu built around tacos. Brunch is more like what a New Yorker might serve in Mexico City: French toast made of churro but served with maple syrup; a classic, salsa-drenched torta ahogada; masa waffles; and tacos filled with braised bacon, deviled eggs with Yucatan sikil pak, or smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria (Noho)
For: Italian-accented eggs and sandwiches.
Scene-y and, with its brick walls and long communal tables, painstakingly rusticated, this Great Jones Street restaurant-market-café trades in house-baked breads, La Colombe coffee, and a devotion to ingredient-forward cooking. The busy brunch can come with straight-Italian dishes, like roasted gnocchi, or just Italian-inflected classics, like a crispy cod panini with Calabrian chilies or a waffle with fresh strawberries and mascarpone.

Le Philosophe (East Village)
For: When you need a refined, rich French start to your weekend.
Ignore the gray signage, half-covered windows, and the seemingly outdated menu cooked up in a hastily remodeled kitchen, because the food here is unexpectedly accomplished. The menu is unabashedly rich, especially during brunch, when you’ll find dishes like crêpes with roasted foie gras and chocolate, duck hash with fried duck egg, and seafood salad with butter-poached lobster.

Maialino (Gramercy)
For: When you want to start your day off with top-notch service.
At Danny Meyer’s Roman trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel, gaze out over Gramercy Park and watching men slice bread and meat. For brunch, Nick Anderer infuses American classics with an Italian lilt, serving sandwiches stuffed with roast pork and fried egg and some of New York’s best sticky buns.

Nom Wah (Chinatown)
For: When you want dim sum from a city institution.
Thought to be the oldest dim-sum parlor in New York, this faithfully revitalized, family-operated tea and snack house is a New York institution. The red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and signage are totally retro, but the service isn’t. In keeping with modern Hong Kong style, the restaurant dispenses with the carts and serves its excellent “Original” egg rolls, steamed spare ribs, and rice rolls to order.

Russ & Daughters Café (Lower East Side)
For: A modern take on appetizing, the classic weekend ritual.
At the second establishment from appetizing’s first family, fourth-generation operators Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper have created a shrine to Eastern European cuisine and downtown Jewish food culture. Decorated with a herringbone-patterned marble floor in the front and anchored around a salmon slicing station, it’s a place to kick back in throwback vinyl booths while noshing on herring and sipping on drinks that are part soda fountain, part mixology.

Shopsin’s (Lower East Side)
For: When you want to remember you’re in New York City.
The menu at Kenny Shopsin’s eccentric diner inside Essex Street Market is puzzlingly long and the service remains gruff, to say the least, but it’s worth it for wildly delicious dishes like Blisters on My Sisters and the towering “Castles:” three patented hamburger sliders topped with scrambled eggs and cheese.

Santina (Meatpacking District)
For: A light and breezy meal that won’t dull the senses.
Housed in glass box underneath the High Line, this sunny coastal Italian restaurant from the Torrisi team favors seafood over meat and a lighter Mediterranean approach. The same holds true, mostly, during brunch, when you’ll find Italianate riffs on standards like panettone French toast and a standout fish sandwich.

“Eggs in hell” with tomato, oregano and Fresno chili. Photo: Courtesy of Upland

Upland (Kips Bay)
For: When you want to pretend you’re in California.
Even the spaghetti gets a fried egg at this Cal-Ital restaurant from Justin Smillie, where the morning-meals wizard brings his vegetable-forward approach to brunch service. There are pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches alongside the usually belly-hugging suspects on this egg-heavy menu.

Veselka (East Village)
For: When you’re in the mood for potato pancakes.
Downtown’s favorite 24-hour Ukrainian diner, long a destination for pierogi and borscht, doesn’t miss a beat with brunch, serving an abbreviated menu to bleary-eyed locals. Nothing is going to surprise you, but then soft scrambled eggs with ramp-butter wouldn’t feel right with this old-school, mid-century aesthetic. What you’ll get are the usual suspects with a slight Eastern European accent, like a Monte Cristo with spiced Polish sausage from East Village Meat Market instead of ham and, of course, plenty of potato pancakes with your wilted kale and eggs Benedict.


DB Bistro Moderne (Midtown West)
For: When you can’t make up your mind.
The food is almost always worth the wait at Daniel Boulud’s handsome, contemporary bistro. The menu is made up of classic dishes with New American accents, like a sundried-tomato omelette and French toast on housemade brioche with almonds, marmalade, and fromage blanc. A meal here is one of the classiest ways to enjoy a lazy, fortifying meal over the weekend.

Má Pêche (Midtown West)
For: When you don’t want to make up your mind all at once.
Last year, David Chang’s midtown fine-dining spot was reinvented as a kind of post-modern dim-sum parlor, where passed plates mean a rotating selection of dishes like cheese dips and whatever else is on the chef’s mind. Brunch is Momofuku classics and Americana breakfast food with some Asian influences, like an egg bun with maple bacon, and breakfast noodles with chorizo and queso fresco. Cocktails, too, are distributed by cart, so you can get those sriracha-spiked Bloody Marys on demand.

Marea (Midtown West)
For: A glitzy seafood fest.
At this glittering, fine-dining establishment on Central Park South, the dining room is decorated, fittingly, with twirling seashells hand-dipped in silver. Ingredients are similarly luxe and the restaurant’s seafood focus is not lost during brunch, when you’ll find crudi and entrées like butter-poached halibut to go with plenty of rib-sticking renditions of chef Michael White’s famous pastas.


Barney Greengrass (Upper West City)
For: The classic spot for New York’s original brunch.
For a bagel feast of the first order, this Formica-clad uptown haunt has scarce in the way of competition. The deli styles itself as the Sturgeon King, but it’s not all smoked and pickled fish — there are 23 omelettes and egg dishes and eight kinds of egg sandwiches, too.

The Cecil (Harlem)
For: When you want a modern Harlem meal.
Styling itself as an “African-Asian-American brasserie, this warm-toned, handsome restaurant pairs eclectic, global cooking with a Harlem state of mind. During brunch, chef JJ Johnson takes a notably heartier approach to his cooking, pairing brisket with fried rice, serving fusion mash-ups like roti pizza and unconventional ‘dim sum’ like sake-braised lamb ribs, and creative, full-throttle takes on brunch standards like an open-faced breakfast sandwich with duck-fat mayo.

The East Pole (Upper East Side)
For: When you live uptown, but want a downtown vibe.
Bucking the sheltered, trend-averse style of the Upper East Side, the East Pole brings a more contemporary style to the neighborhood with its bare-bones aesthetic and a map on the menu’s back for locating purveyors. One of the owners is from downtown’s popular the Fat Radish, the other two from Brinkley’s, and they’ve brought that populist locavore style uptown with them, rejiggering it for the local clientele. During brunch, there are morning-friendly cocktails like a Sicilian blood-orange mimosa to go with fresh juices, housemade granola, and a nice split of vegetable-heavy and meaty classics.

Ginny’s Supper Club and Red Rooster (Harlem)
For: A celebrity chef’s take on the gospel brunch.
In the great tradition of the neighborhood, the basement lounge at Marcus Samuelsson’s ode to down-home southern cooking offers a gospel brunch on Sundays. The ticketed event features a spread of fried yard bird and breakfast pastries set to the tune of Vy Higginsen#8217;s Gospel for Teens Choir. There’s a noteworthy brunch at the restaurant upstairs, too, where Samuelsson serves his eclectic take on soul food, influenced in equal parts by his Ethiopian heritage and Swedish upbringing.

Jacob’s Pickles (Upper West Side)
For: Those times when what you need is new-school comfort food and lots of pickles.
The wood-hewn spot specializing in all things brined goes all in during brunch, bringing its menu of pickle-garnished comfort food to hungry, late-rising Upper West Siders. The trendy menu is divided into gut-busting categories like biscuit breakfast sandwiches, coop and bakery, and home cooking, but you’ll want to make sure you get a couple pints from their impressive selection of craft beers.

The Mark (Upper East Side)
For: The best people-watching in the neighborhood.
Sure, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s UES spot caters to the settled tastes of the locals — the famous chef debuted his first burger here — but if you want to see, and be seen, by the Upper East Side throngs, this cheerful, opulent hotel-restaurant is the place to go. There are smoothies and a raw bar for people who like their brunches on the lighter side, as well as a solid if not entirely unpredictable menu of eggs, buttermilk pancakes, and a smoked salmon platter.

Red Farm (Upper West Side and Greenwich Village)
For: Those times when nothing but dumplings will do.
Ed Schoenfeld has played a part in nearly every Chinese dining trend to hit New York and at this restaurant, fashionably designed to look like a barnyard, he’s working with chef Joe Ng to reinvigorate the tired tropes of American-Chinese food. The key is to turn your attention to the dim sum — Ng’s specialty and the Chinese answer to brunch — along with the small plates like crispy beef.

Central and South Brooklyn

The Farm on Adderley (Ditmas Park)
For: When you need a place to take the family.
A laid-back take on the bistro that epitomizes the “local and seasonal” slant of so many nuevo-Brooklyn restaurants, this Ditmas Park favorite is a family-friendly operation. During brunch, you can zero in on the housemade granola without sacrificing flavor, but there’s plenty for those looking for a heartier meal, like chicken schnitzel with a sunny-side egg, red-flannel hash, and an adult grilled cheese served on multi-grain.

Fort Defiance (Red Hook)
For: When you’d rather be spending the weekend in New Orleans.
This modest establishment aspires to be an inviting neighborhood social center, so it’s no accident that it’s a café-bar-soda fountain all in one room. It’s best known for its high-caliber cocktails, from the Pegu Club-trained owner St. John Frizell, but the brunch is satisfying and encourages lazy lingering. The menu leans towards pan-southern, pairing skillet cornbread and collard greens with poached eggs, and smart New Orleans influence shows up in dishes like Creole red beans on toast with andouille and pickled onions.

Mile End (Boerum Hill and Noho)
For: New York’s top Montreal-style smoked meat and a neo-deli vibe.
The brunch is meaty and loaded with refreshed takes on Jewish classics, dishes that your grandkids will say bubbe cooked, at this Canadian-ish deli for the locavore set. Montreal-style bagels from owner Noah Bernamoff’s Black Seed are a recent addition, available alongside the classics, which the menu skews toward, like smoked meat, challah French toast, the breakfast sandwich (fried eggs, cheddar, and bacon on rye), and, of course, variations on poutine, French fries, and cheese curds soused in brown gravy.

Nightingale 9 (Carroll Gardens)
For: You want to eat Vietnamese.
The Arkansas-born chef Rob Newton, who made his name with his dressed-up southern cuisine at Seersucker, doesn’t serve your typical brunch at Nightingale 9. Rather, at this Dixieland-meets-Hanoi noodle shop, he’s serving creative riffs on traditional dishes like lemon-grass pork chops with an egg and waffled bánh xeo served alongside “black caramel sauce” (black vinegar, fish sauce, palm sugar).

Prime Meats (Carroll Gardens)
For: When you want several kinds of sausages.
An ode to the great German restaurants of earlier years in a Prohibition-style space, this Smith Street destination is from the red-sauce revivalists behind Frankie’s. The coffee is serious (Stumptown trains the baristas), real attention is paid to finding meat and produce from great local farms, and nearly everything, from the rillettes to the sausages, is done in-house. There are, of course, lots of encased meats in the many hearty dishes, like a traditional weisswurst, a New York classic sausage, egg, and cheese on a biscuit, and a bratwurst with sautéed mushrooms.

Tom’s Restaurant (Prospect Heights)
For: When you just want old-fashioned diner classics.
It’s been around since 1936, and lines still snake around the corner, thanks to exceptional service (including free coffee, cookies, and orange slices when waiting in line) and a lengthy, playful menu with tons of “Omellete Extravaganzas” and 15 styles of flapjacks ranging from harvest pancakes with corn to sweet potato with bacon and flavored butters.

North Brooklyn

Delaware & Hudson (Williamsburg)
For: A spread of American classics.
At this snug Michelin-starred restaurant in Williamsburg, the kitchen takes inspiration from the oft-overlooked cooking of the Mid-Atlantic states. Exposed rafters and pickle jars used for décor match the menu’s hyperseasonal bent, which will have you tucking into regional delicacies like Baltimore crab cakes, corn mush (fried cornmeal pudding), cinnamon doughnuts, and an Amish-style chicken pot pie. Wash it all down with a coffee egg cream, the ultimate brunchtime ode to New York.

Egg (Williamsburg)
For: Those who know breakfast is the only meal that matters.
After it opened as a mornings-only pop-up inside another restaurant in 2005, this southern comfort spot’s breakfast became so popular they bought out their host and became an all-day affair. Over the last decade, it’s established itself as Williamsburg’s consummate brunch spot, home to Eggs Rothko (easy-cooked egg in a slice of brioche), duck hash, and classic pancakes with Vermont maple syrup.

Okonomi (Williamsburg)
For: A Japanese spin on lean cuisine.
If all you know about the lean side of brunch is a kid’s-size portion of oatmeal and grapefruit, then ichiju sansai will be a game-changer. Co-chefs Yuji Haraguchi and Tara Norvell are serving a meal typically encountered in posh Japanese hotels, local seafood served with a cube of Japanese omelette, tofu-dressed broccoli rabe, brown rice with kombu, and miso soup. It’s at once nourishing and delicious.

Reynard (Williamsburg)
For: A day-starting meal with the Williamsburg elite.
Andrew Tarlow’s first foray into hotel restaurants takes him to a recently restored warehouse on once-industrial Wythe Avenue, where the kitchen takes a seasonal approach to bistro classics. Brunch is refined, rustic, and concise, as it tends to be at Tarlow’s restaurants, with a little bit of something for everyone. The menu changes daily, but you’re liable to find dishes like beets with smoked white fish, a fried-chicken sandwich with pickled peppers, and a chef-y egg sandwich with ham and gruyere.

Roberta’s (Bushwick)
For: When you want pizza with your eggs.
What started out as an unheated, converted warehouse with no gas is now a perpetually mobbed, sprawling pizzeria-and-then-some dining destination. The pies are what made this place famous, but the kitchen excels with pasta and vegetables and puts creative spins on brunch standards like cornmeal pancakes and bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant.

Fritzl’s Lunch Box (Bushwick)
For: Affordable, smart takes on hearty dishes.
Dan Ross-Leutwyler’s cozy, 19-seat (not counting a ramshackle backyard when warm) luncheonette is justifiably lauded for its excellent hamburger, but there’s a lot more going on in the kitchen here. Brunch tends to be hearty and just oh-so-slightly chef-y, like omelettes rolled around crab cakes and drizzled with chipotle-hollandaise, sautéed mushrooms in really thick shallot-cream sauce, and chilaquiles with burrata.


Casa Enrique (Long Island City)
For: South of the border pick-me-ups.
New York’s only Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant serves a menu inspired by Chiapas, Mexico’s southern-most state. With its metal bar, skinny hanging lamps, and white furniture, the dining room feels stark and industrial. But the service is friendly and relaxed and the food typically excellent, from the invigorating rajas con crema to the bruschettalike molletes with chorizo and, the ultimate south of the border hangover cure, chilaquiles.

Court Square Diner (Long Island City)
For: The classics.
A no-frills, old-school diner of the first order, this chrome, 1950s-era establishment doesn’t try to woo or wow you. But for a solid, restorative, and inexpensive meal of American breakfast staples with a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere, it’s hard to do better.

M. Wells Steakhouse’s Russian Waffle: smoked sturgeon, paddlefish caviar, trout roe, potato waffle, and much more. Photo: Melissa Hom

M. Wells Steakhouse (Long Island City)
For: New York’s most bonkers brunch.
On Sundays only, this neo-speakeasy steakhouse in a refurbished auto body shop opens up for brunch and, as you may have expected, the menu is totally bonkers. Québécoise chef Hugue Dufour serves unusual takes on traditional brunchtime dishes, like a recent wobbly egg with salt cod and romesco, a fish-roe-and-smoked-sturgeon-packed version of his Solomon Gundy (here called a Russian Waffle), and, of course, sides of poutine.

Queens Comfort (Astoria)
For: A gut-busting hangover cure.
At this casual, eclectic restaurant decorated with stuffed cereal mascots, superhero figurines, and other assorted collectibles, you bring your own booze and the brunch waits often last hours. But devoted locals say the food, which draws inspiration from California to Cajun Country, is absolutely worth it. It’s a zany, gut-busting take on Americana, with seven super-charged spins on eggs Benedict, sriracha macaroni-and-cheese fritters (Atomic Fire Balls), and rotating desserts like homemade Oreo-ice-cream pie.

Queens Kickshaw (Astoria)
For: When you want to keep it vegetarian.
It’s all about the vegetables, day and night, at this specialty coffee, craft beer, and chef-y grilled-cheese local favorite. The first restaurant from the couple behind Lower East Side cider emporium Wassail, they place an equally serious emphasis on their beverages here. The coffee’s no slouch, and you’ll find some good cider, too, but you’ll want to make sure you pair with a few dishes from their menu of eggs and classics, like a mushroom-and-ricotta quiche or an egg-and-cheese sandwich with maple hot sauce.

Places to Avoid

Yes, some of these are classics, and all are immensely popular, but the truth is that the last thing you want in the morning is to wait four hours just to deal with crowds of tourists and other harried New Yorkers only to pay a small fortune for poached eggs.

The $22 brioche French toast is just one of many overpriced dishes that isn’t worth the hassle of dealing with a huge room full of wall-to-wall tourists. Better to go to one of Keith McNally’s other spots instead.

Clinton Street Baking Co. & Restaurant
Pancakes are fine and good, but waiting in line for several hours for them — when there are perfectly good pancakes all over town — is never worth it.

Grub could go on and on about this overrated destination, but let’s just keep it simple: They serve a $1,000 lobster frittata and you really don’t want to eat anywhere that does that.

Tavern on the Green
The reboot has been universally panned as a disaster, and there’s just no reason to go here at any time — but especially not when you’re getting your day started.

… And then there’s Prune.
Gabrielle Hamilton is one of the city’s most respected chefs. It’s a lovely restaurant. And every tourist in New York has heard, or read, or seen something on TV telling them that they just must go here for brunch. All Grub Street will say on the matter is that you should weigh all these factors and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

Further Reading
It’s Time to Shut Up About Brunch
A Skirmish in the War on Brunch [NYer]
Brunch, From Sleepy to Showoff [NYT]

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Filed Under: where to eat, brunch, brunch guide, new york city

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Transcript: Read Full Text of President Barack Obama’s Speech in Selma

We have often written about our love of Harlem and what it represents – past, present and future.

We believe that President’s Obama’s March 7th speech  commemorating “Bloody Sunday” provides an amazing opportunity to learn, appreciate and share all of what Harlem has, does and will represent.

We urge everyone to take this opportunity to share and discuss.


It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:

There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

“We shall overcome.”

What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God – but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work. That’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. They saw it made real in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.

What a solemn debt we owe.

Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

“We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

This is work for all Americans, and not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for – the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.

Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect. But we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”

We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.

Diversity and the Oscars

oscar diversity infographic harlemcondolife.com

Lee & Low is a children’s book publisher focussed on bringing diverse voices to the forefront and promoting related conversations.

They produced this info graphic of the Academy’s track record on honoring the work of minorities.  The backdrop to this includes an investigation by The Los Angeles Times in 2012.  The Times found that the majority of Academy members are older white men, and of the 85 best actress awards, just one went to a person of color, Halle Berry in 2002.

The Academy’s new president is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American to do so.   She and its chief executive Dawn Hudson are taking steps to increase diversity, which includes a diverse roster of faces for the March 2 show.

Click here for interviews with independent filmmakers of color about their roles in Hollywood.

via: http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/24/the-academy-and-diversity-by-the-numbers/