The Weeksville Willow Is No More

The Fateful Day: May 18th 2018, the Willow Comes Down

The last day of life for this 80 year old survivor, a stable reminder of the past through out decades of change for the African American community of Weeksville was Friday, May 18 2018.   The human who cut it down claims to own its home, nominally called 87 Schenectady Avenue by the City of New York.

Our Day In Court

About a dozen garden members had been in court a day early in a futile effort to block the destruction.   The judge threw out our case, a “show cause” order, because we had failed to serve the owner with a “summons and complaint”.  It all seemed like the owner, his lawyer and the judge knew the outcome ahead of time.  We never got a chance to show the judge the beautifully enlarged photos of the tree we had brought to court.

The Weeksville Willow’s demise was as quick as its life was long.   At about 10:30 AM,  an armada of men and machinery arrived at the site.   Among the assembled monsters were a boom truck. a wood chipper, two dumpsters and an especially vicious device designed to cut up the roots of the tree.   The owner apparently knew that willows will keep driving up new trees from their roots for months after the tree is cut down, so he clearly meant to eliminate that possibility.

Our Willow is No Match for Mechanized Might

The crew of about a dozen workers descended on the sleeping giant armed with ropes and chainsaws.   They began disassembling the 80 foot tall willow that had been a beacon of hope for decades for Weeksville, once an independent community of African Americans.   Piece by piece, two men, one with a chain saw, cut limbs off the willow and lowered to other men waiting on the ground.  They in turn hauled the pieces off to a wood chipper which chewed the limbs up and spat them out into a waiting dumpster.  Sections of the trunk too large for the chipper were dropped directly into another dumpster by the boom operator.  Meanwhile more men steered traffic away from the work and closed off the sidewalk lest anyone want to get to close to the destruction.  Local residents reacted with sadness and anger to see the willow coming down.

By 2:30 PM, the willow was only a memory.   I sense even the workmen had some idea of the travesty they were engaged in.  The tree expert told us the willow was rotten from within and would have fallen within a year or two.  They gave us the chipped remains for our garden as mulch.   From ashes to ashes, chips to chips.   They are now helping build up the soil of our remaining garden.  Still in service to our community.  As always.   Long live the Weeksville Willow!

Saddest of all: the lot remains empty!

The saddest thing of all is that now, fully seven months after the willow ceased to exist, its former home is still an empty lot.  The owner, once so eager to build, seems to have had a change of mind or lacks the funds to proceed.  Was all of this haste necessary?  How much longer will this once thriving garden remain a forlorn and empty lot.

A boom truck hauls away some of the last limbs.


A willow limb goes into the dumpster

A few leaves to remember you by.

A neighbor weighs in.

It was a good fight.

A view from underneath the willow.

A view of the willow from Imani II.

When the Willow was a place to gather.

The Willow created a great space for youth in Weeksville.


What the garden site looked in January 2019


Save the Imani Willow Fundraiser A Great Success!

A fund raiser held on October 1st at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture raised over $5,000 to help save the Imani willow. On a beautiful sunny Sunday at this historic mansion on Prospect Park, scores of supporters gathered for music, a panel discussion and art auction. Sarah Taylor received a plaque honoring her legacy of hard work in support of the Weeksville Heritage Society and the Weeksville community. Here are a few photos from the event.

JC Joseph discusses history of Weeksville and the Imani Willow
Ngonda Badilla and her sisters perform ancestral Congolese songs
Herbs and tinctures from the Imani Garden provided by Alyssa Dennis
Panel discussion among  (from right)  Ede Fox, Keith Carr, Claudia Joseph and Greg Todd about how we preserve space for gardens
From left, William Keefer, Alyssa Dennis, Greg Todd, JC Joseph, Tania Cuevas and Pareesa Pourian in front of Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
Greg Todd, Ede Fox and Mireille Lemaine
Keith Carr and Mireille Lemaine



Press Release: Imani Garden To Be Cut Asunder Monday July 17th 4 PM

July 16th

For Immediate Release


Imani Garden, an historic community garden located in Weeksville, Brooklyn, the oldest independent African-American community in New York City, is about to be cut into two pieces. Like Solomon’s baby, this garden is being cut asunder by the neglect of City and State officials. Unlike the real mother in the Solomon baby saga, neither the City nor the State is stepping in to save the baby.

To witness this destruction, attend our Press Conference on Monday July 17th at 4 PM at 89 Schenectady Avenue, between Dean Street and Pacific Streets

On Monday, the owner of 89 Schenectady Avenue, a lot purchased as a result of the City’s tax lien sale, a lot once owned by a non-profit, will put up fences that will cut an NYRP-owned community garden into two pieces – and lead to the destruction of an iconic willow tree that has graced this low-income community for over 50 years.

Founded as Imani Garden – which means “faith” in Swahili and is the final day of Kwanzaa – by the nearby Our Lady of Charity RC Church, 89 Schenectady Avenue was the subject of a series of tax lien sales in the early 2000’s by the City of New York. This despite the fact that it was owned by a non-profit created by a member of the OLOC church. Under existing procedures, a non-profit has to file annual notices with the State to be removed from the City tax rolls. By placing the burden of proof on often under-funded non-profits, this City-State two step manages to create a vast reservoir of properties for the gaping maws of land speculators.

In the case of Imani, to collect what appears to be less than $15,000 in back taxes, the City created a situation where speculators stand to rake in as much $235,000 or more. Nice deal for them, raw deal for Weeksville.

For more information call Greg Todd at 718-496-5139 or email Also see our website.

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