Before I got on the road on Sunday, I made a point to stop by the corner of Clinton Avenue and Myrtle in Clinton Hill Brooklyn where my friend, Carey Gabay, was being honored. Eight months after his passing, a portion of the street where he once lived has been co-named “Carey Gabay Way.” People around the world, from the Pope to President Obama, are familiar with his story, which is widely acknowledged as a gun violence tragedy of epic proportion. But, with days like Sunday afternoon, his legacy is emerging as the catalyst for the type of change we desperately need in this country regarding gun control laws and policy reform. In short, while celebrating during the early morning hours of the annual pre-West Indian Day Parade festivities known as J’Ouvert last year, Carey was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs and struck in the head by a stray bullet. His passing on September 15, 2015 signifies the urgency of creating a clear strategy and viable means to ending gun violence in New York City.
At the time of his passing, Carey was an aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo serving as First Deputy General Counsel at the Empire State Development Corp. Touted as the quintessential example of the American Dream, he grew up in public housing in the Bronx, the son of parents who immigrated from Jamaica and instilled in him the type of character and work ethic that would serve him throughout his life. Before becoming a part of the fabric of Harvard University as an undergraduate leader then on to Harvard Law, he attended Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx where his interests in law and politics were nurtured as a brilliant young scholar. While he would go on to work in corporate law, his passion for serving his community, and the constituents of New York at large, were surely leading him towards a path as an influential elected official in coming years.
The narrative of Carey Gabay has significantly been cast in light of the horrific details behind his murder. Because of that, I have chosen to write a tribute that would add additional perspective to what we are discussing when we say the name “Carey Gabay.” By all accounts, his loss is a tragedy from which one never truly recovers. His family and those who knew him most dearly continue to navigate the pain of his passing while finding ways to accept a reality without his physical presence in their lives. Yet in recognizing this grief, I am reminded of the words of the poet, Rumi:
Sorrow prepares you for joy.
It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter.
It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh,
green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots,
so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow.
Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart,
far better things will take their place.
Therein lies my focus: the fresh seedlings of joy that will blossom in Carey’s honor by continuing the work that he represents. As the street co-naming would indicate, we should begin to shed light on “The Carey Gabay Way” of navigating life. While he is irreplaceable and one of a kind, he has left us with a monumental legacy that will require each person to strive towards the standards he has set. By doing things the Carey Gabay Way we can become more civically engaged so that we are leveraging our political agency around the community to shift the systems that impact us. We can collectively become involved in legislation behind gun laws and policy reform. We can continue to impact the scholastic aptitude of our youth by referencing his life and accomplishments as an inspiration and model for their own achievement and success in chosen fields. We can be kind, warm-hearted neighbors and generous contributors to our community by supporting minority-owned businesses and local empowerment initiatives. We can share a smile or laugh that is just as infectious as Carey’s with everyone we encounter. We can emanate faith, love, compassion and hard work in all that we do. Because in doing so, we are creating a space for new joys associated with his memory. We are unearthing the roots of the type of transformative action he strived towards in order to make New York a better, safer place. That, in fact, IS the Carey Gabay Way.
The co-naming of Clinton Avenue to Carey Gabay Way, an honor that usually occurs three or more years after a person’s passing, took place on May 15, 2016, which would have been his 44th birthday. His name appearing on that street sign is an honor brought about in collaboration with the efforts of his younger brother Aaron McNaughton with the help of New York City Council and the Mayor’s office. It is a pledge against gun violence that will undoubtedly be one of many things that lead to the gun control in New York City. His brother is also working with the city to create a J’Ouvert task force that will focus on a framework for law enforcement, community members and officials to ensure a safer celebration leading up to the Caribbean Day Parade. Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo announced the Carey Gabay Scholarship Program that will provide full rides to five State University of New York students “who exemplify Carey’s commitment to social justice, leadership, and mentoring, as well as his personal story of succeeding academically despite having an economically disadvantaged background.” The Governor’s Counsel’s office has also created a fellowship in Carey’s name that will be awarded to a mid-career attorney who is committed to public service. The fellow will serve for two years “furthering the Governor’s violence prevention initiatives as well as issues of economic equality and development that Gabay championed throughout his career.” This will enable each fellow to advance the causes and objectives that Carey worked on in Albany, such as helping minority businesses with grants. Finally, the Municipal Fund Scholarship has also been created that will allow graduating high school seniors to complete an internship at a top law firm or investment bank during the summer months. Two out of the 40 students selected for the program will be given scholarships in Carey’s name to attend their respective colleges. These steps towards solidifying Carey’s legacy are just the beginning of preserving that very legacy if we all do our part to honor his memory with our own action.
Carey was exemplary in every way. The Carey Gabay Way is Black excellence to the highest degree. He is one of our greatest New Yorkers, who, in my opinion, deserves to be catapulted to legendary status as a public servant. More than a hashtag, a tragic story, and a victim of gun violence (while I have faith that his murderer will be apprehended and convicted), Carey Gabay is a powerful catalyst for the unequivocal shift towards justice, safety and advancement that our city deserves.
That’s why each time I drive down Carey Gabay Way with an Uber passenger, believe that they will get the full story of the street’s renaming from me.