On Saturday, members of the East 59th Street United Block Association remembered the 15 residents from their block who have died since the COVID pandemic began by giving them the memorial service they have not been able to receive.
The 15 residents honored in the service were Ophelia B. Backas, Brenda King, Gertrude Simpson, Walter Simpson, Adolphus Marshall, Richard Redhead, Marcia M. Williams, Leigh Nesmith, Jacqueline Armstrong, Marlene Garrett, Michael Anderson, Enid Ashby, Burchell Black, Tristan Stewart and Shirley Howell.
Saturday’s service was the first memorial the block association has ever organized. Roy McKenzie, president of the association and a longtime resident, explained why they felt the need to organize it now.
“We just want the people on the block, these people that lost their loved ones, to show them that we care,” McKenzie said. “And, unfortunately, we couldn’t be there to support them, so because of that we figured we’ll do something together. Being part of their loss, and saying how sorry we are, and we are here for them.”
The service took place in the middle of the closed-off street, which was set up with a large tent for attendees. It began at 11 a.m. and included condolences and words of comfort from several local clergy members. Family members of the deceased had the opportunity to give emotional tributes to their loved ones and partook in a ceremonial balloon release.
One of those who attended the service was Royelle McKenzie-Jeffrey, the daughter of Roy McKenzie. She grew up on the block and came out to show her support for the community she considers family. She felt that the service was a way to help those grieving feel less alone.
“This memorial is a wonderful tribute to the families, just to let them know that we never forgot them, and also to let them know that we still care, we’re remembering their loved one, because their loved one was our loved one as well,” McKenzie-Jeffrey said.
Councilwoman Farah Louis also attended the service to show her support, having grown up in the area and having personally known some of the deceased. To Louis, community events like this are a positive step.
“This is part of the healing process,” Louis said. “So much trauma has been experienced because of COVID. This is part of how we heal as a community. Mental health is compromised right now in every aspect. So this is a way for us to come together and find healthy ways for us to mourn and to heal.”
Roy McKenzie and the East 59th United Block Association Executive board members Maureen English, Carmen Craig Lawrence, Sydney Lawrence and Marsha Goodluck would like to thank BKLN Diner, Foodtown and BJ’s for providing refreshments and resources for the service. Additional donors included Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Clouden, Cordel White, Maureen English, Marsha Goodluck, Annette Murray, Cheryl Brownlee, Berris Maddix, Yvonne James, Grantley Murray and Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Thomas.