Brownsville Old Timers Day

Brownsville Old Timers Day

October 9, 2019

By Jerry Childs, Director of the Brownsville Recreation Center

It takes more than bricks and mortar to build morals and harmony within the community.  Maybe this was on the minds of the first organizers of the Brownsville Old Timers Day Event. 

Brownsville Old Timers Day began in July 1963, when the patrons of two neighborhood bars boasted about who had the better baseball team. They decided to find out by having a baseball game. 

The game was scheduled for the last Saturday of July in 1963, which led them to have this game annually and call it the Brownsville Old Timers Day.

To enhance the game, they decided to invite additional people from the neighborhood to come out to watch and bring food, which turned it into a community gathering. This went on from 1963 to 1987, with an annual baseball game and the community coming together to watch the game and engage in additional activities, such as double Dutch, chess, dominoes, and other board games.

As you probably can imagine, the players started to get older and the interest of the annual Old Timers game started to dwindle. Two young ladies, one named Dorothy L. Rice and the other Gloria Valtin, played an integral role in reorganizing the activities. Ms. Rice was the mother of the late Greg “Jocko” Jackson. 

Mr. Jackson was an NBA player with the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, and he was very popular in the neighborhood. His mother asked him if he would help with Brownsville Old Timers Day because the event was going to phase out soon.

Mr. Jackson was reluctant to help because the old-timers were set in their ways and unreceptive to change. His mother pleaded with him to just do it for one year. He agreed. His first move was to expand Old Timers Day from a one-day event into a weekend gathering. He also turned to key backers like DeCosta Headley for support.

Mr. Headley, the founder and chairman of the D.R.E.A.M. Foundation, has been instrumental in helping Old Timers to thrive. Each year, Mr. Headley, a Brownsville native, and businessman, sat down with Mr. Jackson to find out what was needed. Following each meeting, Mr. Headley would obtain sponsorship and donations for the event. The Brownsville Old Timers has recognized Mr. Headley for his three decades of service.

In 1988, the first Reunion Night was birthed, which was on a Friday and consisted of a fish fry during the day, with about 200 people in attendance, and a popular singing group called the “Wonder Boys” performing that night for free. This spectacular event was held in the auditorium of I.S. 275 on Rockaway Avenue.

In the early 1990s, Brownsville Old Timers moved to the Brownsville Recreation Center. Mr. Jackson started to expand the event by putting together the best baseball teams in the neighborhood and organizing local basketball games. He invited NBA and NFL players, such as basketball players World B. Free, Jerry “Ice” Reynolds, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Phil Sellers and football player Otis Wilson. Boxing legend Mike Tyson has been one of the many honorees over the years.

The tradition continued with the crowds getting larger and larger each year. Everyone knew Brownsville Old Timers was always the last weekend of July, so no official advertisement was needed. 

In the early 2000s, the event outgrew the gymnasium of the Brownsville Recreation Center and had to be moved to the softball field. 

Mr. Jackson wanted to expand the event by having major headliners, including renowned R&B artists. He created a committee, which consisted of original old-timers, community members, and friends who had a permanent interest in the community and wanted to see the event succeed.

The popularity of Brownsville Old Timers increased to the point of outgrowing the softball field by 2009. 

That caused the 73rd Police Precinct’s commanding officer to declare that the event was too large for the park. With his help, along with the precinct’s community officers, the event organizers searched for a different venue. 

Mr. Jackson stated, “If they can close down Madison and 5th Avenue, why can’t we close down Linden Boulevard?” 

In 2010, Linden Boulevard, from Rockaway Avenue to Van Sinderen Street, was closed for the first Brownsville Old Timers weekend. 

The New York City Council was instrumental in helping to secure funding and support for this event. To this day, the City Council continues its support of the gathering. There are several other community partners: Brownsville Multipurpose Family Health Center, Brookdale Hospital the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District, Nia Theatrical Productions, as well as individual City Council and State Assembly members.

Today, Brownsville Old Timers has expanded to a week of events that include: a parade, table tennis tournament, Latin Night, Jazz Night, Youth Night, community concerts and the culminating Reunion Night and Old Timers Day, which consists of senior and collegiate basketball games, activities for the youth, as well as local and renowned R&B artists.

Mr. Jackson passed away in 2012, and Mr. Jerry Childs became the organizer of the Brownsville Old Timers. With the assistance of the amazing New York City Parks Department team, Brownsville Recreation Center staff, elected officials, and community partners the Brownsville Old Timers event are growing stronger than ever, keeping the great legacy of Mr. Jackson and the original Old Timers alive.

Each year we bring quality arts and cultural events to Brownsville and neighboring communities. Brownsville Old Timers Week now serves more than 10,000 people. Many of them travel from across the United States and Canada to enjoy this monumental event. 

Serving the families in our community is a priority. As I look back upon a time, I can say with pure recollection, that family is one of the most important aspects of a person’s life. In this respect, it remains of utmost importance to initiate, cultivate, maintain, and prioritize family relationships through the Brownsville Old Timers Week.  This is a week for all to celebrate—from youths to seniors, business owners to unions, as well as religious organizations and community organizations.

In 2019, we served more than 10,000 people with delicious food, great fellowship and amazing entertainment, featuring Howard Hewitt, Blue Magic, and the Legendary Intruders, to name a few. All in attendance, from the elected officials to our community partners and those who traveled from far and wide, were on their feet basking in the camaraderie of this family euphoric event.

Brownsville Old Timers Week has created an event standard in which folks walk away with a positive, worthwhile experience. 

Through this event, we create mutually respective partnerships between law enforcement and the community. It brings together community groups, police departments, and vendors in a non-confrontational atmosphere. It also bridges communication gaps within and between the organizations, thus encouraging cooperation, planning, and bold thinking among the attendees. In the end, Brownsville Old Timers Week is a community celebration of peace, happiness, and love.