Tribute to Phyllis Reed: Long Time Bronx Community Activist

The following was sent to me in response to my question about who this much loved woman was. Besides the kind quote from a BoogieDowner reader below, the following article about the late Ms. Reed, written by Alex Kratz, was printed in the Norwood News back on November 19th. It is an endearing piece offering some insight to who this great woman was. May her vision for the Kingsbridge Armory, to become a truly positive influence in the community, become a reality. As we say in Greek Community when someone of such grace passes away; “May her memory live on for ages to come.” May her spirit live to move and inspire us, and serve as an example of the true nature we were made to aspire to. The upcoming plaza to be named in her honor will truly help in this endeavour. Individuals like Ms. Reed are the real pillars that make a community. Kudos’ to Councilman Cabrera in his efforts to promote the legacy of a community activist of her caliber.


Quote from BoogieDowner reader;
“Phyllis Reed was a member of Community Board #7 and an active member of the Board’s Parks’ Committee. She is best known for the gardening work she did on a plot of land around the Kingsbridge Armory. She transformed a vacant stretch of land around the armory to a lovely community garden. During the summer she also supervised youngsters who worked in the garden with her.”

November 19, 2009
By Alex Kratz

Phyllis Reed, a longtime Bronx activist with grand ambitions and a matching work ethic, always appeared to be in a hurry. For the last 13 years of her life, she was working under the toughest of deadlines. Doctors called it cancer. She treated it as motivation.

“I always felt that she was trying to beat a clock,” said Pat Woods, one of her closest friends. “Like there’s never enough time in the day. She was always going.”

Reed, 66, passed away quietly on Aug. 31 at the Jewish Home and Hospital on Kingsbridge Road, just blocks from the Kingsbridge Armory, the vacant palace Reed believed could transform the community. In recent years, Reed worked tirelessly to beautify the green spaces surrounding the facility.

Because Reed rarely talked about her health problems, it took weeks for the news of her death to circulate among friends.

Born in New York City on Feb. 18, 1943, Reed spent her early childhood in Ocilia, Georgia, where she was raised by her aunt and uncle. Reed’s daughter, Allison Richardson, says it was under their guardianship that her mother “developed a solid spiritual foundation and recognized the power that nurturing others with love and compassion could provide in building one’s character and confidence.”

Reed eventually moved back to New York in the 1970s. She raised a daughter and created one of the first black-owned advertising agencies that catered to minority-owned businesses. Her firm, Dalmatian Enterprises, Inc., provided up-and-coming minority businesses with media exposure. One of her efforts, dubbed “Dalmatian 100s — Making It in New York,” canvassed the city’s buses and trains with images of successful black entrepreneurs.

Later in life, Reed, a voracious reader and researcher, attended Fordham University, where she founded the National Forum for the Applied Media Arts and Sciences (NFAMAS), a nonprofit group dedicated to helping college students in their artistic endeavors.

The group provided internships and grants, as well as after-school and summer programs.

Doctors gave her just a few years after her diagnosis. She stretched it to 13. “It was through her drive and determination that she was able to battle this disease for so long,” Richardson said.
Reed, who lived in Mount Hope near Burnside Avenue, adopted the Kingsbridge area as the place where she would direct much of her energy. She joined the Kingsbridge Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Last year, she became a member of Community Board 7. (When her sickness kept her in bed, CB7 Chair Greg Faulkner said Reed would call him all the time to ask about what she had missed at meetings and how she could help.)

Reed became enamored with what she considered the magnificent beauty of the Kingsbridge Armory, an enormous castle-like structure in the middle of a bustling and diverse neighborhood.

She believed the Armory, which has remained vacant since the National Guard left in 1994 (there is a proposal to turn the structure into a shopping mall), could be turned into a transformative community resource.

“She thought big,” Richardson said. “And she was a fire starter. She could ignite people.”

The Armory, Reed believed, could be a great agent of change. “She used to get so excited,” Richardson said. “She thought, ‘this could be the hub of the community.’”

Reed’s contribution was to beautify the exterior grounds, which has long been a magnet for trash. Richardson said her mother’s thinking was: “I’m going to plant this garden and they’re going to pay attention.”

For the past few years, starting in the fall of 2005, passersby may have seen Reed or any number of volunteers, working in what would become known as Kingsbridge Armory International Village Garden — planting flowers, herbs and vegetables, weeding, fertilizing, creating paths or installing benches.

The garden “consumed her,” Woods said. “It was also a peace of mind for her.”

“She was all about making things prettier and better,” said fellow Kingsbridge activist Liz Thompson.

The garden has hosted events like barbecues and Christmas tree giveaways.

As her health worsened, Reed continued to think about the garden and the Armory. “Anytime she could get somebody to take her out [to the garden], she would, even though she knew it wasn’t good for her [physically],” Woods said.

The fate of the Armory garden is still very much up in the air, but for now, in Reed’s absence, a host of community volunteers maintain its appearance.

“She believed that if she could just get enough people together,” Richardson said, “she could get them to focus not on what they don’t have, but what they can become.”


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The Boogiedowner team writes articles, takes photos and runs a cultural calendar to help connect Bronxites to local news.


2 thoughts on “Tribute to Phyllis Reed: Long Time Bronx Community Activist

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Posted by Kiara | April 10, 2011, 7:50 pm
  2. Thank you for posting this information. I have been trying to get a hold of her for the longest time. I was unaware of her death. I used to work with Phyllis everyday after school in the garden. She was a very ambiguous, persistent, eager, and exciting woman. She will truly be missed. She has taught me so many valuable things that I still use till this day. Her legacy and mission will love on in my heart forever.

    Posted by Kiara | April 10, 2011, 7:51 pm

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February 2011
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