Sunset Park activists, artist set up memorial at Green-Wood Cemetery for those lost to COVID-19

June 2, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
Sunset Park activists, artist set up memorial at Green-Wood Cemetery for those lost to COVID-19
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Paying tribute to the fallen.

The gates of Green-Wood Cemetery at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street in Sunset Park have been transformed into a tribute for those who have died from the coronavirus.

Several photos, names and drawings have been put on the gate since the memorial’s opening on Wednesday, May 20.

Sunset Park resident Margaret Ann lost a friend due to COVID-19 and visited the memorial on Wednesday, May 27.

Photos courtesy of Margaret Ann

“When I went to the memorial yesterday, I felt sad because I placed a picture of my very good friend up,” she told this paper. “She was like a sister. Her name was Antoinette Ventola. I have been friends with her since she was five years old. She was born and raised and still lived in Sunset Park. After I left the memorial, I felt at peace that I was able to pay tribute to my beautiful friend who I am going to miss always. It made her sister Rosie feel happy. She has been having a very hard time with the passing of Antoinette.

Community activist Alexa Avilés created the memorial with other locals and discussed how the plan came to fruition.

“There had been a group of organizers and artists, a good number from New York City, and around the country they organically found each other because they were having a conversation around this real need for collective grief, anger around acknowledgment and the death of people, especially around the community,” she told this paper. “I was having conversations locally and wanted to create a local project specifically for Sunset Park. I wasn’t thinking of the national or New York State at large. Our community was really hard hit but the two came together very quickly.”

A national group launched Naming the Lost, a 24-hour online vigil which took place on May 20. A subgroup emerged to work in parallel to do a memorial site.

Photos courtesy of Associated Press

“We had conversations with a group of artists, regular people who had been impacted (by COVID-19),” Avilés said. “We wanted to do five sites across the city as a place for collective mourning and grief and to honor lost ones.”

It was personal for Avilés, who lost four elder family members.

“Three on my husband’s side and one on my side [died of COVID],” she said. “All really at the peak when we were losing 800 people a night in New York City.”

The Sunset Park tribute has grown since its beginnings.

“It has grown and I’ve received a number of requests from people to make sure to leave up [signs]” she said. “We are going to have to expand it because there isn’t much space. A big challenge has been the rain. Many of the mementos on the gate were made from paper. There are a couple of people in the neighborhood who are like weather watchers and they cover it up with a tarp and pull it down.  The intention is that it would always be something owned by the community.”

Photos courtesy of Associated Press

Sunset Park resident and photographer Harry Mena talked about the importance of the memorial and how strong locals are.

“This memorial is a chance for a collective cathartic experience to grieve for our dearly departed taken from us so suddenly like a thief in the night,” he said. “We all know a neighbor that has passed due to this insidious virus. We will come to the aid of our neighbors just as we did during 9/11, Hurricane Maria, the co-op fire on 43rd, and now many groups have stepped up. The entire community is in quiet pain but we Sunset Park people are fighters. We are a strong bunch and shall fear no evil. I hope this will suffice.”

Photos courtesy of Associated Press

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