Meet a New Yorker for Parks

In Memoriam: Greg Jackson 

May 18, 2012

When the Knicks drafted Guilford College point guard Greg Jackson in the 5th round of the 1974 NBA draft, there was no doubt about where he’d live. Jocko, as friends called him, was coming home to Brownsville. During his season with the team, he took the subway to games at Madison Square Garden, always flanked by a group of friends and neighbors from Brownsville. He continued to stand alongside them for the rest of his life.

Jackson, who died on May 1 at age 60 of an apparent heart attack, was a tireless neighborhood advocate and the longtime manager of the Parks Department’s Brownsville Recreation Center. He became manager of the facility in 1997 and transformed it into a welcoming, supportive oasis for a generation of children, teenagers, adults and seniors in the neighborhood – what Rosanne Haggerty, President of the nonprofit group Community Solutions, which works on poverty and housing issues in the area, recently described as “an inviting and respectful place where the idea of violence was challenged by Greg’s warm but firm management.”

That sentiment was echoed by LeRoy Temple, Brooklyn Director of Recreation for the Parks Department. “The first time I met him, I thought – he’s like an uncle,” Temple said. “Everyone’s uncle. Someone reassuring, calm, someone who put you at ease – whether you were 8 or 25 or 40-years-old. He had that same presence for everybody.”

Jackson lived in Brownsville nearly his entire life, and often talked about the “village” it had been when he grew up: a bustling, vibrant and tight-knit community of tenements, small shops and factories. He remained devoted to upholding that environment, even long after crime had overtaken the neighborhood – starting within the walls of the Rec Center.

As The New York Times noted in his obituary, the first thing Jackson did on the job was to remove protective, forbidding bulletproof barriers from inside the center. Soon after, The Times said, he “enlisted local artists to paint murals on the walls and expanded the center’s programs beyond athletics, staging plays, running talent shows and holding roller-skating nights. He organized annual old-timers’ weeks, inviting former residents to return for softball and basketball games and barbecues in the name of instilling community pride.”

Temple distinctly remembers the first old-timer event he attended.

“I had heard rumors about the old-timers events, about how well things were run, how strong the relationship was between the Center and the NYPD, but it was really something I needed to witness myself,” Temple said. “I just thought – he’s got everything under control, everything in line. To shut down Linden Avenue with 10,000 people there – it was amazing to see.”
In her tribute, Haggerty captured Jackson’s day-to-day influence at the center:

“A typical day at the ‘BRC’ would have seniors at exercise class, lots of youth basketball league action, a swim meet, two or three community service projects being organized, teenagers using the recording studio, afterschool programs,  and Greg working his magic: connecting people, calling in favors to help someone in need, guiding a visitor to see the murals, fish tanks, planetarium and other quirky projects (we once held a meeting in a space decorated as a haunted house) and making everyone who crossed his path a believer in the possibility of restoring the 'village' of Brownsville.”

NY4P had the pleasure of partnering with Jackson and the WNBA’s New York Liberty to host a free basketball clinic last summer in Brownsville, and we saw firsthand his warm leadership style and tremendous impact on the community's youth.

“A few weeks before the WNBA event, we went to meet Greg and visit the Rec Center," said NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht. "There was a torrential downpour, and there wasn’t a soul on the streets.  But when we walked into BRC, it was like a beehive – kids everywhere, playing basketball, working out in the gym, following Greg around.  There was so much energy and love in that place; you felt it the second you walked in.  And there was Greg, quietly, unassumingly at the center of it all.”

His work often extended beyond his role as manager of the Rec Center. As Founding Director of Community Solutions’ Brownsville Partnership, Jackson spearheaded efforts to tackle a host of local problems, including health, housing, education and violence reduction.

Every step of the way, Temple said, Jackson lived by a mantra that his grandmother had taught him: “Who have you helped today?”

"He’d walk through the neighborhood and ask that question,” Temple said, “and passed on that spirit to countless children.”

Kamillah Hanks: Tappen Park, Staten Island
Beverly McDermott: Kissena Park, Queens
In Memoriam: Evelyn Lauder: Citywide