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Alicia Mack

This year’s Project Green two-day event on Arbor Day, Friday, April 24 and Family Day, Saturday, April 25 at Herbert Von King Park, where 10,000 bulbs planted in fall are now coming into bloom, helped expand the community’s perspective on its role in preserving and protecting the neighborhood’s natural resources, while creating foundations for Bedford-Stuyvesant’s sustainable future.
Project Green is also an initiative designed to bring community awareness of the neighborhood’s nature organizations – Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford Stuyvesant, Von King Park & Cultural Arts Center and the Hattie Carthan Community Garden — comprising Bedford Stuyvesant’s largest green space.
With the support of major sponsors Con Edison, Amalgamated Bank and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation; the blessing of beautiful weather; and the overwhelming response from community residents to useful free green-oriented products and information and intriguing stage performances, this year’s event was nothing less than inspiring and fun.
Arbor Day opened the weekend with a celebration of spring by some 500 area schoolchildren from P.S. 256, P.S. 305, George Murray Academy, Concord Baptist School, 117 and P.S. 3. The students were the stars of the morning presentation which featured them performing in unison the first-ever Arbor Day song, Planting Our Future, written particularly for the children of Bedford-Stuyvesant by noted composer-songwriter Larry Banks.
At the event hosted grandly by educator and Civil Rights pioneer Mama Leah (Ms. Lois Gilliard), elders, New York City Parks and New York City garden officials offered messages from the stage, which was adorned by Von King Park’s stage manager, Berris, with enlarged images of environmental heroes: Harriet Tubman, Hattie Carthan, Wangari Matheii, Majora Carter, Van Jones and George Washington Carver.
Athlete Mary Sobers, historian Mama Olatunji, and environmentalist Dyanne Norris were brief in their words, but memorable in their presentations. Ms. Norris summed up the thoughts for the day: “Green is not new to us; it represents the rich heritage from which we emerged.”
The lessons of the day extended to Mama Leah’s involving the students creating their own definition for “green.” Words and phrases from the amphitheater ricocheted off the cement walls as the young people shared what they knew and what they had learned that day about the food we eat, the air we breathe, the land we tend and more.

A tree-planting ceremony followed with the students and community leaders encircling a baby Spruce (compliments of John Bowne H.S. via the intercession of Magnolia Tree Earth Center board member Nancy Wolf). Mama Leah blessed the grounds and the ceremony, and Councilman Al Vann, life-time resident of Bedford Stuyvesant and dedicated supporter of community youth programs spoke about Harriet Tubman’s natural genius and environmentalist spirit.
With the assistance of some 40 motivated Brooklyn Job Corps’ volunteers, the children reprised Banks’ wonderful song, as they stood around the island of grass in the northeast side of the Park, now home to the Spruce and the history of that unique and memorable Arbor Day.
Brooklyn Job Corps’ volunteers also helped facilitate a structured arrangement that helped schoolchildren view and take part in the tree planting presentation. Gifts were donated from numerous sponsors to teachers and librarians in the participating schools. “The day was an overall learning experience, encouraging everyone, primarily the youth to think about nature and the environment,” said Bernice Elizabeth Green, who with James Durrah of the Neighborhood Housing Services-Bedford Stuyvesant, originated the concept for Project Green, now in its second year.
Throughout the entire structured production, students were enlightened of the many ways to live a healthier lifestyle and educated about some of the contributors who will support them in their personal and united pursuits of a sustainable future for the community.
The goodwill spirit of Arbor Day carried over to Project Green 2009 Community (“Go Green”) Expo, the next day (April 25), a day for all family members. From the numerous organizations, businesses and individuals who displayed and gave away useful products and green information, to inspirational performances promoting unity and love, the Expo explored the importance of paying attention to the earth, nature and the environment.
A sense of unity was in the air even before the Expo commenced. Mama Leah, the very first arrival at 7:30am, blessed all the corners of the park, and the Spruce Tree.

Amongst the thirty- eight volunteers, one stood out the most, to this writer. A teen by the name of Robert from the Bedford Stuyvesant area, stumbled upon the event, insisting that we use his help “in anyway possible.” This, indeed, was the quintessential example of the many courtesy and union aspects of “going green” that occurred over the weekend in Von King Park.
Motorcycle Bikers (who wanted to perform “great community service” for the neighborhood), Brooklyn College and Pratt College students, and local parkside neighbors were among the wide range of volunteers who dedicated their time and effort in making this two- day event a success; proving that it takes a village to create a foster a movement.
The Park was sectioned into among other areas a Children’s Arts & Crafts walkway with face painting and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s live animals; The Congo Drummers’ Circle, near beds of tulips, and the Restoration-sponsored At Home Way with organizations such as NHS, Brownstoners of Bedford Stuyvesant, NYSERDA, and Pratt Sustainability and enterprises such as “Go Green, Inc.” and Therapeutate.
Performances presented by various age groups on this day captured the attention of park visitors from all walks of life and all ages: the dynamic and articulate seven-year-old Nyla Anderson opened up the day’s entertainment presentations, sponsored by Con Edison and Restoration, with a remarkable speech on going green from a youthful standpoint. Von King’s Martial Arts Group, under the guidance of Master Nash, and Double Dutch Jammin Jumpers, under the aegis of Ruth Payne, by their skills and physical stamina, exemplified the importance of exercise and discipline in our lives. The ongoing Inner City Sports Little Leagues games were also a live example of this point.
A highlight of the day was the launch of this year’s celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of Congo Square Drummers and Dancers and the 10th Anniversary of the Universal Hip Hop Parade 2009 Association Inc. Phoenix Rising and Mama Leah of drum royalty led the historic Congo Square masters in a majestic performance with elder kings, Brother Abu Abidun and Brother Monte.
Nearly 700 hundred bottles of AriZona water and 250 canvas eco-bags were distributed at the event (note: attendees were provided with information on tap water vs. bottled water), and the kick-off of the Green Teen essay contest was announced by Marcia Melendez, owner of Flowerworks, who gave away a Mother’s Day gift basket and a large philodendron plant in two drawings.
Gifting and greening went hand in hand during this weekend with the sound of the drums echoing through the evening and all helping to create a green uprising, an uplift, and an awareness that it all starts with our relationship to ourselves and each other. With events such as these in the future, the community will be encouraged to become more active in the issues surrounding global warming, and how we can all contribute now and together for a “greener” future for the children of tomorrow. (Alicia Mack was the event organizer for Project Green 2009.)
(Readers, please note: A more detailed story on the Community Expo written by Kimberley Banjoko appears in next week’s Our Time Press Legal News issue.)

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