2013-08-09 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Remembering Those Who Came Before
By Timothy Aaron - Styles

There have been numerous African- Americans that have positively contributed, in various ways, to the Rockaway community. Some were ministers. Some business owners. Some were housewives. Some governmental employees. Some were laborers.

Some were teacher assistants. Most were hard-working, good and caring adults and parents who provided good homes for their families while providing support, guidance and protection for their neighbors and their neighbor’s children.

These unsung, and often unidentified, “sheroes” and heroes lived their lives dedicated to making their homes, blocks, neighborhoods and community better - not because they wanted fanfare, acknowledgment or recognition – not because they had political aspirations, but because it was the right thing to do. They were driven by what came naturally to them. Their inherent motivation was creating a healthy community for them to live in and for the children to grow up in. It takes a village to maintain the village.

For the most part, memories of these individuals exist in two places.

One, in the minds of those who remember them and their contributions.

Two, in nostalgic “I Remember Rockaway When….” or “Whatever Happened To…?” conversations between folks during one of those heart-felt and emotion rendering voyages down memory lane.

Well, as Rockaway rebuilds and redefines (hopefully) itself, now is a wonderful opportunity to do something that should have been done decades ago. Maybe there is a more receptive and visionary environment in the minds, offices and, if necessary, pockets of residents, ministers, elected officials, business owners, leaders and organizations.

That “something” whose time has come is this: identifying, acknowledging, recognizing, honoring and institutionalizing those individuals who gave so much to the community - especially who did so much for the youth of their time. With few financial resources, they touched the lives of so many people because the three most important resources, they had plenty of and shared freely: time, love and skills. They were leaders who spent time in the trenches. They were role models. Protectors. They were adults respected by young people and other adults, as well. Elders, from whom children would solicit, accept and heed instruction and guidance. They were trusted because they were trustworthy.

So how, then, shall we recognize and honor these people whose names and lives are unknown to the new and recent residents who now reside in Rockaway? Even to the young people who were born and raised in Rockaway but might not ever have heard of the people whose lives made it possible for them to have and exercise positive choices.

How do we inform and educate others, while reminding one another, of those who once lived and created positive, lifeaffirming and constructive initiatives, activities and programs in a place where the evidence of their work might not be as evident, heralded or even believed?

Let’s start the process of dedicating and naming public and private spaces and places after some or all of these individuals.

Schools, parks, green spaces, public buildings, community gardens, street signs, cul-de-sacs, playgrounds, walls, monuments – there are numerous places and spaces that can serve as historical markers and landmarks to honor them. Remember them.

This is an initiative that all elected officials, community leaders, religious leaders, residents, organizations and businesses can, and should, rally behind at this time.

Rockaway and Rockawayites, “at home and abroad” need progressive and healing ideas and initiatives that will contribute to the transformation and restoration of Rockaway’s collective identity and soul.

Let’s start by remembering. honoring and commemorating some of those people whose contributions can never be washed away: Gwendolyn Hooks, Kenneth Perkins, Ressie Heard, Lizzie Cross, Mr. Scarborough, Frank Durden, Anderson (“L.O. Styles”) and Reverend Thomas Mason – just to name a few.

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