On Friday, March 19, a street sign on the corner of Fulton Street and Verona Place in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant was unveiled bearing the name “Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins Way,” after a Black teen murdered by a Caucasian mob in Bensonhurst nearly 32 years ago. The ceremony, attended by several Hawkins’ relatives, local activists and elected officials; was conducted on the 48th anniversary of Yusuf’s birth.
“You may see me crying, but these are tears of joy to see my son’s name up there,” expressed Diane Hawkins. “I’m so happy and grateful that this event happened today for my son. I just want to thank everyone.”
On Aug. 23, 1989, 16-year-old Yusuf, his 14-year-old brother Amir, and a couple teen friends ventured to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to inquire about a used car they planned on purchasing. They were ambushed by an angry, racist mob of 20-30 Italian American young men armed with baseball bats and a gun, who falsely believed they were visiting a local girl. Yusuf was shot and killed.
“Anybody that walks down Fulton and Verona Place/Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins Way now, take a look, turn to the mural, and look up in the sky because he’s looking down on all of us,” Amir stated.
The Hawkins street co-naming campaign was initiated last year after the broadcast of an HBO documentary, “Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn,” by the movie’s producers.
“I really want them to understand that Yusuf was a decent person and, you know, his life, it was taken away from him senselessly,” explained consulting movie producer, Charles Darby. “Just something that didn’t have to happen.”
Yusuf’s murder was one of several Caucasian mob killings of Black men during the 1980s which sparked widespread protests and also escalated NYC’s racial tensions.
Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr., who saw the bill go through the City Council, described Hawkins as a “bright young man with limitless potential,” adding that he also inspired a slew of activists.
For some the sign serves as a reminder of the racism existing in the melting pot that comprises the five boroughs, still today. “Sorry to say it, but things are not much better than it was in ’89,” noted Yusuf’s brother, Freddy Hawkins. “But it seems like things are increasing more. You know, there’s more racial hostility, more so than ever.”
A mural bearing Yusuf’s likeness is painted on a Verona Place wall, parallel to his co-naming sign.
Cornegy added: “It never stops: this fight against racism, this fight against bigotry, this fight for our humanity as Black people.”
Diane Hawkins concluded: “This has got to stop. I hope it stops soon. Everybody needs to love one another and bring peace.”