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Brooklyn community honors lifelong activist in street-naming ceremony

On Feb. 13, around forty community members gathered at the intersection of Baltic and Hoyt Streets in the Brooklyn, NY, neighborhood of Gowanus for a street-naming ceremony in honor of the late lifelong community activist Nicholas Heyward Sr. Heyward Sr.’s widow, Donna Heyward, coordinated the event with support from the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Those in attendance included New York City Council Members Charles Barron, Inez Barron, and Lincoln Restler.

The ceremony took place near the Gowanus Houses public housing project where Heyward Sr. lived until his death, and where his 13-year-old son, Nicholas Naquane Heyward Jr., was shot and killed by police in 1994.

Heyward Jr. was playing with his friends in the stairwell of the public housing project when NYPD Housing Authority Officer Brian George shot and killed him, claiming to have mistaken the teenager’s toy rifle for a real weapon. George had responded to a 911 call reporting a man with a gun at Gowanus Houses. Then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes declined to press charges against George, blaming Heyward Jr.’s “realistic-looking” toy gun. 

After his son’s murder, Heyward Sr. became a vocal advocate against police violence and continued to seek justice for his slain son throughout his life. In 2015, he successfully urged the new DA Ken Thompson into re-launching an investigation into the case. However, the case was closed a year later after Thompson’s office decided against prosecuting George. 

While Heyward Sr. died in 2018, his widow Donna Heyward continued his legacy through organizing annual school supply drives for children in her community after his death.

‘Nick was the embodiment of the movement’

Community members and organizers paid homage to Heyward Sr.’s commitment to not only seeking justice for his son, but also for every victim of police violence.

“Throughout Nick’s life, he’s done nothing but sacrifice for everyone,” recalled family friend and activist Anthony Beckford. “Nick was the embodiment of the movement. … Even when he was tired, he was out here marching. Even when he was in pain, he was out here marching, demanding justice — not only for Nicholas Heyward Jr., but for every single victim, every single person that was traumatized by the brutality of the NYPD and this system.”

Other organizers also fondly remembered the solidarity Heyward Sr. extended to those willing to stand with him against police violence.

“He was ready to call me his comrade,” reminisced Kerbie Joseph, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “And that’s who he was. As long as you would fight with him, and organize with him, and build out his struggle, he would stand there for you. He was known as one of the fathers of the police brutality movement in New York City.”

The ceremony continued as attendees marched down several blocks to the corner of Baltic and Bond Streets. There, Donna Heyward unveiled the new street sign officially renaming the intersection Nicholas Heyward Sr. Place. 

Spirits were high as family members celebrated the result of years of organizing and petitioning that led to this day.

“I’ve been trying to get his name up here for three years, since he passed away,” said Heyward. “It was a long, hard road. … I just want to thank everybody for coming out and helping me reveal Nicholas Heyward Sr. Place. Forever, he will be remembered.”

The new street sign is unveiled. Liberation photo

Feature photo: City Council Member Lincoln Restler and Donna Heyward hold up new street sign. Liberation photo

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