New York has a long tradition of naming its streets after war heroes, explorers, authors, and even slave owners. But out of tragedy, a new tradition of celebration is emerging: co-naming streets after the victims of gun violence.
Street co-namings can be a celebration of life and increasingly are serving as a way to memorialize victims of violence in New York City. This phenomenon has grown more prominent in recent years—but does it aid in remembrance of the victim’s life and can it aid in reducing violence?
“The first time I [saw] it on GPS, I got goosebumps,” said Tanya Downer, who lost her brother Brandon Hendricks-Ellison to gun violence, of a street named in his memory. “Wow—everyone that drives past here and is following a GPS will hear my brother’s name.”
The intersection of 156th St. and Park Ave., near the Andrew Jackson Houses NYCHA complex in Melrose where Hendricks-Ellison lived, was co-named Brandon Hendricks-Ellison Boulevard two years ago.
Hendricks-Ellison, a talented basketball player at James Monroe High School, was murdered in June 2020, fatally shot in the neck by a stray bullet while attending a friend’s birthday barbecue on Davidson Avenue in Morris Heights, just a few days after graduating from high school and one week shy of his 18th birthday.
Downer, Hendricks-Ellison’s older sibling, said that any street co-naming can serve as a deterrent to violence, in hopes of minimizing harm in communities affected by it.
“It also serves as a resource for others in the future who may be curious about a street that has its name changed—to revisit what that person accomplished while alive,” she said.
Jaclyn Schildkraut, executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium and associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, confirmed that there isn’t any data suggesting that memorializing the deceased through a street co-naming has an impact on crime rates or helps people to remember those fallen.
“In terms of whether naming streets for victims is an appropriate memorialization, this comes back to the community,” Schildkraut said. “Each community and the individuals within it have different conceptualizations as to what is ‘appropriate,’ so it is not really for those of us, outside of the community, to suggest whether it is right or wrong.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said that street co-naming ceremonies give people a chance to remember an individual who made a major contribution to their neighborhood.
“When we honor someone taken from us by gun violence, it not only serves as a reminder of the life they led, but is also a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to end the proliferation of guns in our city,” Gibson told the Amsterdam News.
For other grieving families and community members, honoring those who have been taken from them requires more than a street co-naming or a wall mural. In some instances, these tributes can reopen old wounds, conjuring bad memories and making the location of the co-naming very important.
“We didn’t want to do that [co-name a street at the scene of the crime], because that’s a place that brings us a lot of pain,” said Mary Hernandez, the aunt of Angellyh Yambo, a teenager who was killed by gunfire last year. Hernandez and other members of the Yambo family passed on the idea of having the streets of E. 156th St. and St. Anne’s Ave. in Mott Haven, where she was killed, co-named after her.
“We haven’t visited that area ever since [Angellyh was killed]. And we don’t want to go back,” she said.
Hernandez filed a petition requesting to have Bailey Place in Kingsbridge co-named after her niece on the anniversary of when she was killed.
“She spent 99% of her time [there],” Hernandez said. “It was where she grew up and where she was happy at. It’s where the building where both of her grandparents live, and [where] her mother and her father grew up.”
Hernandez started a foundation in Yambo’s name, which she hopes will bring positive change to the Bronx. She also said that a wall mural will be created, close to University Prep Charter High School, where Yambo went to school.
“We are going to make sure that her legacy lives on, not only through the renaming of the street and in the mural, but through the works of our foundation,” Hernandez said.
Since long before street co-naming grew in popularity, murals honoring the slain have been painted throughout the city. Some of the iconic works seen throughout the city were created by Groundswell NYC.
The group creates community murals that address the problems an area is facing, including memorial walls that pay tribute to people whose lives have been affected not just by violence, but by other events as well.
“It is a form of grieving, but it is also a way of celebrating the life of the person represented,” said Groundswell NYC artist José Ortiz. “It’s important to note that while some of the individuals represented in the mural may have been victims of violence, they are often not. The person may have died abruptly from natural causes, or any number of other ways.
Ortiz said murals are made with the help of community members and are a representation of the opinions, thoughts and issues of those affected by it.”
He cited the mural “Not One More Death” in Gowanus, Brooklyn, as a perfect example of this in action. “Our students from Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute facilitated the creation of a large-scale mural and street sign campaign to regain control of neighborhood streets, after a series of traffic-linked deaths occurred in Downtown Brooklyn,” he said. “‘Not One More Death’ memorializes the lives of three children taken away by vehicles along Third Avenue.”
For some community members, wall murals serve as a form of community advocacy as well.
The intersection of 183rd St. and Bathgate Ave. in the Belmont section of the Bronx was co-named Lesandro Junior Guzman-Feliz Way in memory of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year-old who was brutally murdered in plain sight by suspected gang members in June 2018, in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
For his mother, Leandra Feliz, the honor was bittersweet.
“This is something that will live on forever, just like how Junior lived and how he lives inside my heart,” Feliz said. Her son is also depicted in several murals throughout the area where the killing took place.
His mother believes that the goal of the street co-naming and the murals to be one and the same. In the end, she wants to see a safer Bronx.
“That’s the idea—that’s what I am hoping for,” Feliz said about the possibility that this act of remembrance might prevent violence from happening again in the future. “That’s why it’s so important to keep Junior’s memory alive, for people to know what happened to him, whenever they look up and see his name on that street sign.”
It is necessary, to continue, to educate, our youths, on the dangers of violence. The Suffering, continues, with the families, friends. In The spring, there should be local marches, in honor, of the slain. The community & school boards, in cooperation with, the mayors office, should provide, assistance, in creating this venue.
Hi my name is Esther family and aunt of Angellyh Yambó. I was raised in the Bronx and my 4 children were also born in the Bronx . My oldest son Jonathan Anthony Berrios, we lived before in 3050 Park Ave in Andrew Jackson Houses in Bronx NY.
My son once was attack and brutally hurt, yes he’s Puertorican, like the said in that moment looks a white boy, all face with blood, this was many years ago in the 1990s right across the steeet of our building by a one of a gang members as a initiation. Unfortunately he was passing by during day time with Angellyhs older brother then 3 years old Fidel Molina Henriquez, when he got jumped.
I want the name of my niece to be herd out loud and seen by the whole wide world, she didn’t deserve to die by another criminal gang member hurting other two more students next to Angellyh,by, another criminal using a ghost gun.. We want to make every youngsters around the Bronx to be conscious about the enormous damages they can cause, by growing up as criminals, in causing so much suffering to our entire family. This been going on for so many years and there still needed too much more to be done. This have to stop and finish with the streets gangs and violence in our communities.
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