On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 1, the Parks Department family was devastated by the sudden passing of Brownsville Recreation Center (BRC) Manager Gregory Jackson, a 26-year Parks veteran, lovingly known as Jocko.
Greg was considered by many as the unofficial mayor of Brownsville, having grown up and devoted his career to the community’s improvement. He joined Parks as a Recreation Specialist in 1986 and was promoted to BRC Center Manager in 1997. Upon his passing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Greg never forgot his Brooklyn roots – he grew up playing in the Brownsville Recreation Center and vowed to one day lead it. And he did just that.” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe added, “He was a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn who chose to devote his career to the betterment of his community where he was truly a pillar… Through sports and education, Greg transformed the BRC into a true community resource and an oasis of peace.”
Under Greg’s leadership, the BRC played host to world-renowned events and served as inspiration for the young men and women who passed through its doors. Greg’s work lives on in the hearts of those he deeply touched. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz reflected, “Jocko was so much a part of Brownsville—and Brownsville so much a part of him—that it was hard to separate the two.” Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey pointed out, “Jocko always encouraged the challenge of boundaries- both real and perceived. In doing so he often managed to do with apparent ease that which most would consider impossible.” Former Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Julius Spiegel added, “Many people pay lip service to ‘giving back.’ Not Greg Jackson. He devoted every ounce of his energy to the Brownsville community that he loved.”
Greg’s dedication to the community reached beyond his work to his personal life and free time. He chaired the Reeves Drakeford Brownsville Jets. This youth basketball team, started in the summer of 1965, provides leadership for young men and women. Each year, Greg and the Jets organized the Brownsville Oldtimers Week, which includes sporting events, a reunion night, and live entertainment. Oldtimers Week unites the community through fun, games and music, and regularly draws over 35,000 people.
Greg touched the lives of Parks employees across the agency who had the pleasure to work with him. Deputy Commissioner Robert Garafola said, “Jocko was a man of peace and honor who respected all and only wanted to make Brownsville a great place to live and bring up your kids. Of course the Brownsville Recreation Center was the hub, the nucleus where you came to have good time, renew friendships and be a part of Jocko’s dream of a better place. I think it was Greg’s version of heaven on earth.” Assistant Commissioner Annika Holder remembered Greg as “a leader, mentor, coach, supporter, advocate and a friend who dedicated his life's work to Brownsville. He inspired the young and young at heart to become stewards of their community. Stars are born in Brownsville and Jacko took pride in showcasing the neighborhood's best and brightest.” Assistant Commissioner Nancy Barthold recalled, “Greg was a gentle giant who filled every corner of the Brownsville Recreation Center with a mix of traditional and unique offerings (a planetarium and 2 recording studios among them). He embraced the needs of individuals, frequently fulfilling dreams of young members (a new bicycle, recording their first single) and often provided a gathering place for the community during time of crisis.” Assistant Commissioner Mike Dockett added, “Greg fostered a culture at the BRC where everyone who entered through their doors were treated as trusted members of a family. Greg and the staff he developed went out of their way daily to provide a welcoming and warm center where every member of the Brownsville community could thrive and be treated with dignity and respect.” Brooklyn Director of Public Services Edwin Vargas called Greg, “a genuine RECREATOR who strived to make every day a great day in his beloved Brownville Brooklyn.”
Jocko’s passing is deeply mourned among the members of Brooklyn’s Recreation team. Brooklyn Chief of Recreation Leroy Temple said, “Greg ‘Jocko’ Jackson made me believe that yes, ONE person can make a difference. He never saw obstacles in what he was trying to achieve, he always found a solution. He would say to me all the time -- ain't no sense in complaining, we have kids and a community to help, so let's get to work.” Deputy Chief of Recreation Jackie Brown added, “I cannot count the times Greg told me about how his grandmother asked him daily,"who are you going to HELP today?" And that is exactly what Greg did everyday - he extended himself daily and used all the resources he had to help others.” Von King Center Manager Gene Fowler recalled, “I have known Jocko since I was a Deputy Manager at St. John's in the early 90's. We had a Table Tennis rivalry between centers as well as each other. His center's members would always beat mine, but I would always beat him. I will miss him dearly as well as his "yeah-man" phrase.” Von King Recreation Supervisor Lemuel Mial called Jocko, “one of the most focused and dedicated individuals I've known who loved people, especially youth, always pursued his cause to make their lives better, never forgetting his beginning, community or home.” In a poem that she wrote in memory of Greg, Sunset Park Deputy Center Manager Dawn Whitfield wrote, “With a desire to make a difference/Determination, hard work, and care/He lifted all around him/And on his shoulders, burdens of others he would bear.”
Greg’s tireless efforts have earned him over 100 awards for his service. In 2010, he was honored with the W. Allison & Elizabeth Stubbs Davis Service Award, which was founded by former Parks Commissioner Gordon J. Davis to recognize Parks employees who show extraordinary dedication to the communities they serve. Recently, Greg also became the Director of Brownsville Common Ground, an organization that seeks to limit homelessness.
DC 37 Local 299 President Jackie Rowe-Adams remarked on Greg’s legacy, “We have taken a great loss. Greg was a hero in his community and helped so many people – so many young people – that have made it. He was a great asset and we will continue to celebrate his memory and spirit.”
Prior to his services for the City, Greg was a star basketball player at Guilford College in North Carolina. He was drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1974-75 season, and finished the season with the Phoenix Suns playing as a guard.
Another former NBA player who is now with Parks is Geoffrey Huston, the Center Manager of the Al Smith Recreation Center. Geoffrey reflected, “Greg "Jocko" Jackson was my friend, mentor, and one of the greatest basketball players to come out of Brownsville. He will be missed and never forgotten.” And while Greg played for the Knicks, he also earned the admiration of the Nets organization. Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark said, “The Brooklyn Nets express their deep sorrow about the passing of Greg “Jocko” Jackson, one of Brooklyn’s basketball legends. Greg inspired countless young people in Brooklyn through his dedication to the Brownsville Recreation Center. He made Brooklyn a better place and he will be missed.”
The Parks Department will always remember Gregory ‘Jocko’ Jackson and we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Carmen, his children and his entire family on this tragic loss.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Pierre Auguste Renoir
(1841 – 1919)