One Love? Political Feuding Threatens to Derail Bob Marley Street Dedication

By Helen Klein

While enthusiasm is building over a proposal to name Church Avenue in memory of the late, great Reggae star, Bob Marley, political feuding may derail the effort, at least in the short term. Community Board 17, at its January meeting, narrowly voted to approve the co-naming of the street, between East 98th Street and Bedford Avenue, in Marley’s honor, after numerous area residents spoke passionately about the importance of such a gesture, which had been initiated by the board’s executive committee. Marley’s music, said CB 17 First Vice Chairperson Laurel Fraser, imparts an essential, “Message of peace, truth and unity, one we really should embrace. He made reggae a universal language,” she emphasized. Leithland Tulloch, the board’s treasurer, agreed. The co-naming of Church Avenue in Marley’s memory, he said, would be a, “Historic event.” The co-naming, added Dr. Marco Mason, the executive director of the Caribbean Women’s Health Association, is a, “Timely concept, an excellent concept, an excellent opportunity.” Marley’s “message,” he said, “goes to the core in terms of liberation and freedom.” “Bob Marley is an icon,” added Janet Bagot. “We need to support this.” W. Henry Eccleston concurred. Noting that he had known Marley, having grown up with him in Trenchtown, Jamaica, Eccleston said, “I’m so proud to be here. Bob carried a message of the people, the Trenchtown people, the people of Jamaica, the people of the world. Church Avenue will be at its best if it’s named after Bob.” Political Support Assemblymember Nick Perry has also thrown his support behind the effort. “The East Flatbush community,” he said in a written statement, “is one that can identify and appreciate Bob Marley’s legacy. He is part of a heritage that is claimed by all Caribbean immigrants in Brooklyn. “As East Flatbush residents shop and travel on Church Avenue and see Bob Marley’s name on those signposts,” Perry emphasized, “it will always remind them of the profound message of the lyrics of one of his more popular songs, ‘One Love,’ that in these times of violence and terrorism and abundance of guns in our streets, if we can get together and love each other, everything will be all right.” Not So Fast However, despite the outpouring of community support for the effort, it may stall, as a storm appears to have brewed over the procedure that was followed to bring the concept before the board. Indeed, nine board members voted in opposition to the proposal, and City Councilmember Kendall Stewart openly expressed his refusal to carry the proposal forward specifically because of the way in which it had come about, with the board rushing ahead to accomplish the co-naming without putting it through what he deemed the proper channels, so that the effort could be completed by February, one of two months during the year when the City Council does co-namings. The need for speed was emphasized by board Chairperson Michael Russell, when he addressed the board. February, he stressed, would be a particularly opportune time for the co-naming to occur. Not only is it Black History Month, but February was also the month of the musician’s birth, Russell noted. That rationale, however, did not appear to carry much weight with Stewart. “Brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “what we are doing is putting the cart in front of the horse. We are doing it the wrong way. I don’t think anyone would be against co-naming the street, but we have to do it the right way. We have to do research. We have to get community involvement, involvement with the merchants on Church Avenue. Then, after that, we have to have consultations with all the councilmembers involved. “Then, we still have to have due process,” Stewart went on. “We have to have at least two meetings where people can voice their opinions. What I’m saying is we might be doing this thing wrong. We can’t say for expedience, we want to do it in February. If you do it without sitting down in consultation with me, there will be no bill entered.” Board member Wellington Sharpe, one of those to vote against the measure, echoed Stewart. “I have no problem at all supporting naming the street after Bob Marley, but we need to make sure we are taking the right approach,” he explained. “There is a procedure, and I am willing at any time, based on what the councilmember said, to sit with him to make sure the process works and we are doing the right thing.” Restating Position After the meeting, Stewart repeated in an interview that he would not move the measure forward. A bill in favor of the co-naming, he said, would not be introduced in the City Council, “Until the proper process is done. You don’t rush a co-naming. There’s always Black History Month next year. We can take time so everybody is on board. I’m not opposing the co-naming, but it has to be done the correct way. What the executive board did shows disrespect to the councilmember and the community.” This was the second time that a co-naming had been approached by the board in this fashion, Stewart added, the first time being the co-naming of a portion of Snyder Avenue in memory of slain 67th Precinct Detectives Patrick Rafferty and Robert Parker. That time, said Stewart, he had moved the co-naming forward despite the process, because it didn’t involve other councilmembers. This time, he added, he was not going to do that. Another Take However, Russell, for his part, denied that there was any effort to avoid going through an appropriate process. He said that the effort to honor Marley at the heart of East Flatbush was being expedited by the board, “Because of the timeline. It didn’t permit us to go through the normal process. “The process was fine,” he asserted in a subsequent interview, recalling that the board had “reached out” to all the councilmembers involved. “For the co-naming of Snyder Avenue, what was the process?” Russell went on. “It was the same, but he (Stewart) objected because it was proposed by Nick Perry. This is the procedure we’ve always used. One can look at the technicalities if you want to, but this is something of historic significance. I think it’s time for us to at least acknowledge some of our Caribbean icons. We are not changing the street name. We are just co-naming it.” Co-naming Church Avenue in Marley’s honor, said Russell during the meeting, would, “Bring out the pride and joy of the community.” Marley, he said, had had, “A global impact. He has been called the first third world superstar, on of the most charismatic and challenging performers of all time. His music proves inspirational and life-changing.” Besides the honor to Marley, Russell said that he believed that the co-naming would, “Help revitalize business on Church Avenue and the surrounding arteries.” The strip, he added, is the “epicenter of the Caribbean community,” and could experience an “up-tick in tourism as a result of the co-naming. “This is something of great interest to the community, something positive, something we should be proud of,” Russell stressed during the interview. “The feedback I’ve been getting is all positive. Don’t look at the messenger. Look at what was proposed. Sometimes you have to keep your eye on the prize, the over-all public good.”

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