AWESOME PROJECT: Longtime neighborhood patriarch and young environmentalist join forces to green their Bed-Stuy block

This week, we’re thrilled to highlight an ioby project (already funded) that tells the story of fierce, old-school neighborhood pride coming together with youthful, tech-savvy energy to green and beautify a block in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Greene Avenue, between Bedford and Nostrand, is a block that’s long been one of Bed-Stuy’s prettiest, thanks to its committed Block Association (headed up by Jonah Flicker, Lenox Charles, and Ann Gumbs), and especially to Henry Jackson, the Association’s leader. A retired math teacher and a vegetarian, Jackson has been a force to behold on the block for decades, hosting monthly block meetings in his living room (at which, to the dismay of many an Oreo-lover, he offers healthy snacks exclusively – dried figs and the like), rallying neighbors to attend cleanups and to tend to the gorgeous flower barrels and tree beds that line the street, bringing in horticultural speakers, and always pushing to win Bed-Stuy’s greenest block award.

Mr. Jackson

[Henry Jackson, right, and neighbors  clean up the garden]

“He’s our fearless leader,” says neighbor Drena Howard, whose day job is   director of global retail environmental health and safety for Estée Lauder. She moved to the block four years ago. “He’s very competitive. He’s always like ‘come on man, we’re going to get out there!’ and he’ll set up multiple cleanings and he’ll find out when the person might be doing the visits for the greenest block. He stays on us. He’ll send out the email blast and get people to come speak to us about green initiatives. He has a lot of pride in going for the greenest block.”

Last year, under Jackson’s leadership, the block raised enough money to built a new gazebo in the community garden at the corner of Greene and Nostrand. And he has a special gift for getting everyone involved – even the unlikeliest suspects. “One of the things he does really well,” says Howard, “is that he makes sure to reach out and engage the young men on the block. The teenage boys. He rallies and makes them push the wheelbarrow up and down the street, saying ‘now, we need some heavy lifters, young men!’ Every time there’s a cleaning, I’m like, who are these young guys? Where do they live? I don’t ever see them! I think Mr. Jackson just old school knocks on doors, saying ‘Get yourself out here and help clean up.’ He commands that paternal respect – I don’t really see people saying no to him that much. He’s not a big man, normal height. Not imposing. But when he speaks, you want to listen to him. He keeps everybody in line.”

Bet you wish there were someone like Henry Jackson on your block, don’t you?

Drena Howard

[Drena Howard does some spring gardening in  one of the garden’s flower barrels]

Howard got involved with the Block Association three years ago. A 2006 graduate of Yale’s School of Public Health, she was all about greening Brooklyn – and why not start with her block? But as a renter, she wasn’t sure, at first, whether she’d be welcome at the block meetings. One try answered her question – she was welcomed with open arms, as was her new approach to fundraising.

“When I started participating in cleanups,” Howard explains, “I realized that one of their gaps was fundraising initiatives. Most of the members on the team are seniors. They were bringing five dollars every time they attended a meeting, and going door-to-door asking for donations. I asked them, have you ever tried any type of online platform to get the message out a little bit farther?” They loved the idea, and Howard turned right away to ioby. A real ioby success story, Howard recently ran a campaign to raise money for new flower barrels, to replace the snow-damaged ones that line Greene Avenue. She exceeded her target and raised $625 in just five days.

“My landlord has tulips in hers,” says Howard, “and then another person has these really pretty purplish flowers. Everybody plants what they want.” And when a barrel starts to look neglected, someone from the block association will swing by, tend to it, dispose of any cigarette buts that may have collected. Talk about the power of community.

If this story inspires you, you’re invited to get involved. This weekend, the block is hosting a Mothers’ Day fundraising event – flowers for sale, a raffle, and plenty of neighborhood pride to go around. Swing by this Sunday, May 10th, around 10am – the festivities will take place in the community garden at the corner of Greene and Nostrand.