Harlem lauded the contribution of Guyana –born Joseph Dennis Livingstone recently during a memorial ceremony that celebrated his dedication to the community but more than that, a diverse gathering of friends, colleagues and associates packed into the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office building to pay tribute to his legacy.
There inside the Harlem landmark, the 62-year-old Caribbean immigrant received posthumous citations from elected officials representing the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron presented the first written citation from the New York City Council saying the plaque also represented the sentiments from her husband, former Councilmember Charles Barron.
Manhattan State Senator Bill Perkins brought a proclamation that he said publically expresses Harlem’s love for the activist/producer.
And Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks dispatched the highest honor from Washington D.C. adding a third posthumous acknowledgement to Livingstone’s worth and contribution of the New York community.
Amidst a cultural ceremony where libations poured blessings, a drum procession amplified the pastoral remarks from Dennis Dillon, the Guyana national anthem punctuated the ceremony with Alissa Gittens, — one of Livingstone’s relatives – performing on the flute.
Slated to be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. the ceremony extended past its deadline and into the evening until 6:30 p.m. due to the long list of speakers which included Prof. Leonard Jeffries and his wife Rosalind, Prof. James Smalls, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, musician Bobbi Humphrey, Carib News reporter Tony Best, Al Sharpton and others.
The gentle-spirited acclaimed activist, producer and communications’ specialist died on Mar. 14 but his memorial lingered until June 28 when seven Guyanese family members were able to join his tri-state family and friends.
Carefully, choreographed by radio personality Imhotep Gary Byrd — with whom Livingstone lived and worked until his last days – the memorial was appropriately themed ”Thank You For Your Kindness.”
It was a phrase Livingstone often added at the end of every telephone conversation to guests he either booked or sought service in relation to producing the Global radio shows he collaborated with Byrd. The theme resounded with familiarity and grace.
Livingstone had consistently fulfilled the task of producing talk and music shows at three radio shows — WBAI-FM, WBLS-FM and WLIB-AM — where Byrd hosts a variety of programs geared at empowering Black consciousness. Together the astrologically-connected Pisceans teamed to present current news, public service and cutting-edge entertainment on shows named: The Global Black experience, the Global Beat Experience, Express Yourself, The GBE Mind Flight, etc.
Since arriving in New York four decades ago, Livingstone simultaneously helmed the front desk at Sharpton’s National Action Network serving as crisis manager for a decade and a half. Throughout his tenure there he fielded and referenced communication between the busy founder of the advocacy organization and perhaps all of NYC worst victims of police brutality and injustice. Also known as the House of Justice, it was there that Livingstone made his headquarters and became its constant gate-keeper.
“JD took care of the House of Justice,” Sharpton said, “he was there on good days and he was there on the worst days.”
Sharpton joked that on one of the bad days, it was Livingstone who called him with information that the FBI visited his operation to scope his activities.
Described as “private,” Livingstone seemed a trust-worthy confidante to both Byrd and Sharpton, perhaps two of New York’s most high profile Black consciousness- raising savvy media personalities.
Livingstone’s ambition was rooted in the communication’s media but partnered his affinity for Black history and mentorship with radio broadcasting.
He advocated for numerous groups and individuals in the tri-state area and throughout the years amplified the excellence and achievement of Caribbean nationals.
Carib News reporter Tony Best claimed that Livingstone’s love of Barbados surpassed others because his grandmother hailed from that island. He praised Livingstone hailing him as a champion who favored his birth-island of Barbados. But a claim could be made for his affection for Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the island’s reggae superstar Robert Nesta Marley, its history-making Olympian Usain Bolt, the reputed University of the West Indies and a myriad of achievers from that island. In addition Livingstone often doled out accolades in equal proportion to the island’s former PM Michael Manley as well as Trinidad & Tobago’s Eric Williams. In his presence, a conversation about Grenada would not end without a ringing endorsement of the New Jewel Movement’s Maurice Bishop who revolutionized the Spice Island in 1979.
Commonly referred to as JD, Livingstone’s private life seemed elusive to most.
“I think he was hiding in plain sight,” a family member said.
Estranged from blood relatives his eldest cousin said he was not surprised by the heights his relative had achieved during his self-imposed exile from close family.
“I have not seen Uncle Dennis in 20 years,” Gregory Gittens, an adopted brother said, “but now I understand that he had expanded his concept of family.”
Seven relatives made the Harlem celebration and together added history to the already compiled legacy Livingstone left when he died at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx on Byrd’s 65th birthday anniversary.
Music interspersed with messages marked the occasion.
Some of Livingstone’s favorites voiced “Never Could Have Made It,” the alleged anthem of NAN, “Oh Happy Day,” “Amazing Grace,” “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” “Oh Happy Day” and “Flight Time,” the theme of the Gary Byrd Experience (GBE).
“He was my brother, my friend,” Byrd said.
Former councilman Barron added: “JD, before you take your celestial rest, stop by and say hello to Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, John Watusi Branch” and all the Black warriors.
Photo credit: 1) Councilwoman Inez Barron joins relatives of JD Livingstone and her husband Charles to display City Council citation. Photo by Bill Moore. 2) Alissa Gittens, Livingstone’s niece plays the tribute in honor of JD. Photo by Bill Moore. 3) Mr. “Thank you for your kindness” — JD Livingstone (left) in radio studio with guest African singer Angelique Kidjo, her husband, Imhotep Gary Byrd and Vanessa E. Cooper. Photo courtesy of archives from Vinette K. Pryce.