RIOC Steps Up

Alice Childress Memorial Saved by an Unexpected Angel

Updated 11 weeks ago David Stone
Alice Childress memorial will find a new home, thanks to RIOC.
Alice Childress memorial will find a new home, thanks to RIOC.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

I'll be honest, I tried to shame groups who should be more responsible on Roosevelt Island into doing the right thing to protect and honor Alice Childress. All failed the test, but RIOC's commitment to the community and its traditions finally stood tall.

You'd have thought PS/IS 217, the public school charged with, not just teaching, but setting an example for children, would step up quickly. Instead, a concern for increasing free employee parking trumped everything else.

The Historical Society? The hapless Common Council charged with representing the entire community but incapable of finding its own butt with a compass? No, and even the Council's public relations wing, the former Main Street WIRE could not be bothered to report when a local legacy was disgraced.

Back in September, we published an article  concerned with the orphaned plaque in honor of Alice Childress, a Roosevelt Island pioneer and African American literary legend. A tree planted twenty years ago had fallen ill and been replaced. School custodian Jeff Atkinson built a low, rock barrier to protect the fledgling. But vandals destroyed it anyway.

For a year or more, the plot sat empty. I dropped hints about what a disgrace to the Island's historic legacy it was. To my dismay, no one took the bait, and worse, in conjunction with the brutal removal of five healthy trees nearby, PS/IS seemed ready to convert the space into a muddy parking lot.

Surprises come in many ways, and a big one landed when I spotted a man carting away Alice Childress's plaque on a two-wheeler earlier this week. He told me he was "taking it inside until we can find a place where it will get the respect it deserves."

Although a darkly cynical place in my heart worried about permanent storage in some forgotten, basement closet, I held my optimistic ground.

Surprise #2, slightly larger, presented itself yesterday when I walked along the promenade behind the school. Erica Spencer-EL, RIOC's Community Relations Specialist, was standing with a maintenance coworker near where the plague once rested, looking puzzled.

Did I see the person who removed it? she wanted to know.

Yes, but why?

"We're going to make a nice place for it near the Meditation Steps," Erica said. "We'll have a small ceremony."

She took my information inside PS/IS 217 and secured the plaque.

An angel has been found. It's name is RIOC. We hope the example set will be followed by others who've forgotten or never knew that Roosevelt Island has a history worth saving - and honoring. RIOC has shown what good public citizenship is all about.

Can PS/IS 217 and the Common Council be far behind?

It's spring and hope is eternal.

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