Red Hook

Brooklyn Kindergarten Society celebrates 125th anniversary at Red Hook gala

May 23, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City first lady Chirlane McCray with Brooklyn Kindergarten Society (BKS) Executive Director Jim Matison and Christine Bensen (far right). Eagle photos by Andy Katz

One of nation’s oldest early childhood education societies celebrated its 125th anniversary by honoring some of its most active members in a Red Hook gala attended by dozens of local business and cultural leaders. The Brooklyn Kindergarten Society (BKS) opened Brooklyn’s first free kindergarten program in 1891, providing learning opportunities to children whose families could not otherwise afford to expose them to education.

Today, the society operates five centers in Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, and serves more than 300 children. During the night’s proceedings, BKS Executive Director Jim Matison announced the opening of a sixth center, also in Crown Heights. BKS receives most of its funding from the federal government, but also relies on private sector grants and individual donations to maintain its commitment to service for children in need. BKS will stand as an official charity partner to this year’s TCS NYC Marathon.

NYC first lady Chirlane McCray attended the pre-dinner cocktail party, chatting at length with Matison and other members of the BKS board.

Other attendees mingled outside on the brick-lined terrace of Liberty Warehouse, a pre-Civil War building that was renovated to host events. Guests were illuminated by the sun slowly setting over New York Harbor, silhouetting the Statue of Liberty and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Dinner took place in the Governor’s Room, decorated with oversized transparencies of BKS alumni by Nadia Coen and Sara Shabaka of Coen Shabaka Design.

The BBC’s New York correspondent Laura Trevelyan played mistress of ceremonies as dinner commenced. She presented a short film documenting the experience of MTA bus driver Marjorie Massirou, who has children in the BKS program and was also on hand that night. Davida David, a second-generation BKS alumnus, spoke at length, providing a moving account of her experiences in the program, saying that the program provided her with “my own place, my own part of the classroom … and now I owned it, too.”

Davida has since achieved several advanced degrees in broadcasting and plays a key role in producing national awards shows.