407-Acre State Park on Jamaica Bay is Largest in NYC, Offering Hiking, Biking, Fishing and Picnicking
Park Honors Shirley Chisholm, the First African American Congresswoman and First African American Woman to Run for President
New Park a Signature Project in Vital Brooklyn Initiative
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the opening of the state's newest and largest public park in New York City, the 407-acre Shirley Chisholm State Park along the shores of Jamaica Bay. The new park honors Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, an educator, former representative of the 12th Congressional district in New York for seven terms and the first African American woman to run for president. The park is a signature project of Governor Cuomo's Vital Brooklyn Initiative, which calls for 34 new or improved pocket parks, community gardens, playgrounds and recreation centers within a ten-minute walk of every Central Brooklyn resident.
AUDIO of today's event is available here.
PHOTOS of today's event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript is available below:
Thank you. Let's have a big round of applause for Senator Persaud. How amazing is this? Who would have believed? Who would have believed? The Senator did the acknowledgements and I am going to mention a few more over the course of my remarks, but first and foremost we have members of the Shirley Chisholm family who are here - Valarie Bacon, Monique Foster, Shirley Foster, Lawrence DuBois, Wesley Maloney, Althea Maloney. Stand up and let us give you a round of applause, and thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I want to acknowledge Commissioner Kulleseid and his predecessor who really birthed this idea and made it happen, Rose Harvey. Let's give them a round of applause. This is the largest state park in New York City and it's in Brooklyn. You know why? Because Brooklyn needed it, that's why. For me, I am old enough to remember coming down that Belt Parkway and all you saw was a mountain, a mountain of seagulls. And you closed the windows. I'll leave that to your imagination. But that's what it was. Nobody had an idea of what was on the other side of that mountain. Nobody knew that you had this beautiful waterfront right here in Brooklyn and how desperately it was needed.
I was building and running housing for homeless families and low-income families off Pennsylvania Avenue. And we had all these young people as part of the families, all these kids, and it was a very dense environment. They were city kids and a lot of them had come from tough circumstances. And I wanted to find an outlet for them. I wanted to find something for them to do rather than just run up and down the hallways of the apartment building. But there was nothing around. There was no green space. There was no park that you could really go to. So, what we did is we formed a little league team of these kids and called ourselves the Hellborn Mets. And we would go from ballfield to ballfield all across the city and it would give us an activity and get the kids outside. And they would run and they would play, and it would be green and they would see a different part of the world. Now, to say that there was not an athlete among these kids would be generous. They made the bad news bears look like professionals. But they were all tough kids, they were city kids. Our motto was, Hellborn Mets - we never won a game but we never lost a fight.
Exercise, nature, change of environment is part of a healthy lifestyle. The Senator was talking about Vital Brooklyn, Vital Brooklyn is a total different way of thinking about community. Real affordable housing. Shirley Chisholm's time they called it low income housing. We now call it affordable housing, that's because it's not really low income housing anymore. Healthcare integrated into the community. Prevention of health issues, more exercise, more treatment, et cetera. That's Vital Brooklyn, changing the way we do business. And this is part of that.
Giving people an outlet to nature and having them, giving them a respite from these hectic city environments. Shirley Chisholm grew up in Brownsville, she was from Barbados. When the family wanted a place to relax you know where they had to go, Jones Beach. They had to drive all the way out to Jones Beach from Brownsville. Can you imagine that ride all the way out on a Saturday just to get a little space and a little peace of mind? Not anymore.
This state park - 400 acres, ten miles of trails, three and a half miles of waterfront, right here in Brooklyn. You can fish, there will be programs to teach children about the environment, there will be picnic areas, there will be bike trails, beautiful mural honoring Shirley Chisholm done by Danielle Mastrion. Let's give her a round of applause.
This was not easy to do, it wasn't an easy transformation, people who remember what it was before, it was hard. It took a lot of different governments to work together. It required New York City to work with us. And I want to thank Alan Maisel and Mathieu Eugene, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel for what they did to make the city part of this. It required something called the federal government, have you ever heard of the federal government? They control the site and we had to get them to be cooperative which sometimes can be challenging, given the current occupancy of the White House. But I wanted to make like it wasn't that big a deal, so I called Congressman Jeffries. I said, "I have a little favor to ask you. It'll only take you one phone call. Just call up the federal government and say, 'you know that site they have along Jamaica Bay on the side of the Belt Parkway? Well we want them to give that to the State so we can turn it into a state park.' That's not a big problem is it, Congressman?" He said, "Are you kidding me, Governor?" But Congressman Jeffries got it done. Let's give him a round of applause.
And then we needed $40 million, which is a lot of money. You want to build the largest state park, that's a lot of money. And we went to our Legislature, and I want to ask them to stand, but Senator Persaud, thank you very much. We want to thank Senator Kevin Parker, stand up please. Assemblyman Eric Dilan. Assembly Member Helene Weinstein. Assembly Member Diana Richardson. Thank you for coming through and making this park a reality.
And the lesson is that good things are hard. The important things in life don't come easy. And that's why I think the dedication to Shirley Chisholm is so important. Here you have a family that immigrated to the United States and showed how possible and the potential of what immigration can do for this country and how it makes it a stronger country. Shirley Chisholm was the daughter of a seamstress and her father was a janitor and had a number of jobs. She was an educator, she worked in daycare. They didn't grow up wealthy, but she grew up with values and hard work and commitment. And she was willing to take on the hard ones to get the good things done.
1965 - She became the second African American to become a member of the New York State Assembly. 1965. 1968 - The first African American female in the United States Congress, Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. 1972 - The first woman to appear in a presidential debate running for president of the United States. 1972 - Shirley Chisholm. And Shirley Chisholm was a real progressive before they used that word 'progressive.' Everyone is a progressive now, I don't even know what it means now, 'I'm a progressive.' But she was the real deal and she was a real progressive. What is a real progressive? Somebody who knows it's about fighting for equal justice and equal opportunity for all. Somebody who fights for civil rights, for minority rights, for helping people who are in poverty and desperate help to raise themselves up. That's what progressive is.
Progressive today, if Shirley Chisholm were here today, she would be talking about how unjust it is that we're not giving more money to poor schools because that's where the need is. She would be talking about Rikers Island and the number of black and brown young people who are incarcerated in the jail that has no right to be operating because it violates civil rights, civil liberties, and is a human rights abuse. She would be speaking about that. She would be speaking about the New York City Housing Authority that leaves people living without heat, without light in the most terrible conditions in the "most progressive city in the nation." That's what Shirley Chisholm would be talking about.
And she would be fighting for it. And she would be insisting on it and when people said, "Well you don't understand it's hard." She would say, "I don't care that it's hard. Change is always hard. Getting to the Congress was hard, getting to the Assembly was hard, running for President was hard." We're here to do the hard thing.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, "The arch of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." Yes, it bends toward justice. But I think what Reverend Dr. King was really saying is we must bend it toward justice. It doesn't bend automatically. It bends when good people grab that arch and exert force for change to bring justice to reality.
That was Shirley Chisholm. That was Shirley Chisholm. And that's this park and that's her memory and her inspiration. And as we open this beautiful park and open a whole new area of interest to generations of young people, right here in the back yard of Brooklyn, let us also remember the lesson and the moral of Shirley Chisholm and fight the good fight and you work even when it's hard to bring real change to people who really need it. God bless you.