It was a day that would have had Morgan Powell beaming with pride.
This past Saturday, about 80 volunteers—from all over The Bronx, New York City, and beyond—gathered to honor Morgan’s memory and legacy by planting 215 trees in The Bronx River Forest by Burke Bridge along with a clean up of that section of the river.
The event was organized by Nilka Martell, founder of G.I.V.E (Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts, Inc) and a long time friend of Morgan.
At 8:30am, about 40 of us met in front of 2515 Olinville Avenue where Morgan lived and a few remarks were made about what he meant to us and the people of The Bronx.
After a few minutes of talking, we began walking North on Ollinville towards Allerton Avenue and headed East towards Bronx Park, tracing a route that Morgan would have likely taken himself to head over to Burke Bridge.
Along the way the crowd of 40 began to swell in numbers as more people showed up as we chatted about what Morgan would probably be saying as we walked.
“Morgan would be telling us about this tree and that tree and what species it was. He’d talk about the architecture of the buildings along the way.” I said, knowing how much he loved to share his knowledge with everyone who was willing to listen.
“I never met Morgan,” said one woman from Soundview who came to volunteer. “I came across the tragic loss of this man who did so much for the community. His story inspired me to start giving back to my own community, something I have wanted to do. His story was what pushed me into action,” she continued as we walked through the Allerton neighborhood that was Powell’s home.
By the time we arrived at The Bronx River Forest at Burke Bridge, the crowd had swelled to just to 80 individuals and we were greeted by workers and volunteers from the Bronx River Alliance and Lovie Pignata who kept us warm with her delicious Morris Perk coffee.
After signing waivers, we immediately got to work and in about 40 minutes, we had planted 215 trees along the western banks of the river just adjacent to the bridge.
With so many people willing to help, it was a quick task with the assistance from the folks at the Bronx River Alliance and Parks Department to guide us.
For me personally, and several others, it became extremely emotional to see an army of people—people who knew him and people who didn’t—coming together to honor this man whose absence has left such a large hole in our hearts and communities.
Jose Albelo, who started as a volunteer at the Alliance in 2013 and is now a full-time employee there said, “that among the trees we are planting today we have Peach Pines, Magnolias, Box Elders, Hot Berries, White Oak, Black Walnut, Silver Maple, and Flowering Dogwoods.”
26 year old Albelo began working in gardening and landscaping before he ended up with the Alliance. “I always loved to work with the earth and nature and make sure it looks beautiful. “Morgan was a nice person, always smiling so this is a nice thing to remember him by.” he added.
Once we were done planting, we headed over to the other side of the river where teams of two each got into canoes and began paddling up and down The Bronx River to begin cleaning up.
So much garbage ends up in the river not just originating in The Bronx but a lot floats down from Westchester County as well.
Some of the items pulled from the river were a shopping cart, a nightstand drawer, a tire, and tons of plastic and glass bottles.
Plastic bags and Styrofoam were a particular menace as there were so many around and stuck to felled trees that were in the river.
By noon, we had collectively picked up a considerable amount of trash from that one area and there was a sense of major accomplishment as we left the river cleaner than when we arrived, planted 215 trees that will help with erosion and over time will grow into a beautiful grove.
The day was extremely successful and couldn’t have been possible without Nilka Martell’s organizing efforts, all the volunteers who showed up, the amazing support provided by The Bronx River Alliance with their staff, Parks Department who were on hand to help, and Morris Perk to help us stay energized with their wonderful coffee.
Upon reflecting on what was accomplished that day, it would be a nice gesture if we could get the area where we planted the 215 trees named ‘The Morgan Powell Memorial Grove’. I picture myself sitting among the trees we planted that day, and simply relaxing.
The Bronx is beautiful and Morgan always showed us beauty in the unlikeliest of places.
Let’s continue to keep his memory and mission alive.