To honor actor and Brooklyn native Michael K. Williams, who died in September of a drug overdose, NYC Together hosted a celebration of his life on his birthday in the neighborhood block he grew up in Vanderveer (Flatbush Gardens) Monday, Nov. 22.

Dozens braved the bitter cold to enjoy the block party as they gave out free turkeys, food, gift bags, COVID tests, and face painting to local community members. An amalgamation of Williams’ beloved hip hop, dance, and house music blasted into the night as community leaders, residents, and elected officials gathered in the street.

Artist Massah Fofana, 52, said she grew up with Williams in the court across from his in Vandeveer and still lives in the neighborhood. They were both considered “odd balls” because of their fashion and love of the arts at a time when that wasn’t readily acceptable. Fofana, who was riding a tricked out bicycle and large pink shades, said that even though her style set her apart, Williams treated her with respect. She’s since become a visual artist and fashion designer.

“He led a very full life. Can’t be too sad because it was a life that was unimaginable for us growing up here,” said Fofana.

Williams was known for his love of dancing, acting, and music. Fofana said her favorite memory of him was when he caught her dancing at the once infamous nightclub called Limelight on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan while underage. He tapped her on the shoulder and asked why she was there. “I just wanted to dance,” Fofana laughed, recalling the memory.

Marietta Smalls was joined by Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Councilmember Farah Louis in saying a few words about Williams’ impact on the community.
Louis announced that the Nostrand/Foster Avenue playground would be renamed the Michael K. Williams playground. “He’s a home grown hero from East Flatbush,” said Louis.

“I just want to say that we are here today celebrating his life. His birthday. We are celebrating his legacy,” said Bichotte Hermelyn.

Bichotte Hermelyn said that the Michael K. Williams Stop Mass Incarceration bill she introduced in Albany will highlight criminal justice reform and aim to reduce the prison population.

“Anybody who’s spent time around Williams knows that he was synonymous with love. It is amazing. Had an amazing spirit,” said J. Williams. “He was doing the work around mass incarceration, overpolicing, gun violence, and also, mental health. He was very open about the need for mental health in our community.”

The evening was capped by a performance from the The Empire Marching Elite drumline and dancers organized by Big Apple Leadership Academy for the Arts.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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