The Austin Green Team on Saturday hosted its annual memorial dedication at the group’s memorial garden at the corner of Washington and Laramie, installing inscribed bricks in the memory of past community leaders.
Those honored this year were former alderman William “Bill” Henry, Emmett Williams Sr., Sophia Shelton, the Rev. Arthur Griffin, Jennie Caldwell, Betty Sandifer, Ruthie Hooker and Velma Jean Johnson.
The Rev. Peter Premarini of St. Martin de Porres Parish opened the dedication, pledging to work with the Austin Green Team and all the organizations, to provide a safe place for young people to come.
Ald. Ed Smith echoed those thoughts “we’re losing too many young people; they are dying everyday, dropping out of school everyday. They are getting pregnant, getting into trouble. So we’ve got to continue to work together and keep doing the work people have done for years.”
Mary Peery, president of the Austin Green Team gave a brief overview of group.
“A group of us got together 15 or 20 years ago and decided that we were going to get these vacant lots and decorate them, make them presentable not with cars and debris,” Peery said.
The group, in collaboration with such organizations as Openlands and Green Corps, identify the lots and plan ways to improve them.
“We plant flowers, we plant trees and we plant vegetables,” Peery said.
Accepting a memorial brick and speaking on behalf of Sophie Shelton, was Jackie Reed, president of Westside Health Authority. Shelton was the right-hand woman for Reed and Westside Health Authority.
“Sophia was a humble woman and she did all that she could,” Reed said. “She did good all the time. When I came in, she didn’t think it was beneath her to make me coffee. When I had problems she would hold my hand. She had cancer for seven years and didn’t miss a day from work. I never heard her complain. Her last words to me were, “Ms. Reed are you taking care of yourself?”
Vivian Stewart, former school teacher and longtime community activist spoke on behalf of William “Bill” Henry, the former alderman of the 24th Ward. Stewart said the two grew up together in what they called “down east.”
We were a family,” Stewart said. “If ever you called him he was there, whether it was school, housing, somebody needed to be buried and didn’t have the money, Bill would do it.
“I went with him several times when he took people food and left them with a hundred dollar bill. He was always upbeat, always proud and proud of where he came from and what he exceeded in doing. He was an exceptional person and we all loved him.”