On what would have been Yusuf Hawkins 48th birthday on March 19, the Bed-Stuy street where he grew up was co-named in his honor.

A crowd gathered at the corner of Verona Place and Fulton St on Friday to mark the co-naming of Verona Place to Yusuf Kirreim Hawkins Way, singing happy birthday, shedding tears and celebrating Hawkins’ memory in a show of unity.

Hawkins, who grew up on the street, had his life cut in 1989 at just 16 years old, when he was murdered by a racist, white mob in Bensonhurt, Brooklyn. Hawkins’ murder sparked a wave of anti-racism activism in the city, including protests in Bensonhurst spearheaded by Reverend Al Sharpton.

Then-19-year-old Joseph Fama was charged with second-degree murder for shooting Hawkins and was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.

“I feel really relieved and happy that this finally happened,” Hawkins’ mother Diane Hawkins told BK Reader at the ceremony.

“Having my son’s name up on the street sign. It’s a blessing, and these tears that you see from my eyes, are tears of joy and having this on his birthday means a lot to me.”

Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. led New York City Council in a vote to co-name the street, and on Friday he said the event was about remembering the impact Yusuf Hawkins’ life had on the community and beyond.

Yusuf Hawkins street co-naming. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

“His life was not in vain, as we move forward to fight back against racism in this city and this state, we have to look back and remember how important his life was to us, and the movements that his life started,” he said.

“Today we can see the joy that Yusuf brought to his family in his life, and in his death in this community.”

He added the fight against racism never stopped, “the fight for our humanity as Black people.”

“We need to remember that as we pass each other one on the street, we have to give the same smiles we are giving now to each other. We have to give it to everyone on the street because it’s like energy. Like food to a soul to see each other and to know that there’s unity in the struggle.

Hawkins brother Freddy Hawkins said it was joy to have his brother’s name on the street sign, and for the exposure the sign would bring.

“This gives a lot of satisfaction to me and my family even though we know there is nothing we can do to bring him back. But we are happy with the mural and his name up on the street sign as part of his legacy.”

Last year HBO released Storm Over Brooklyn, which retold the Hawkins’ to a new generation.


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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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