Gilbert Ramirez Park
Gilbert Ramirez Park
“There are those who will not see that which they are not prepared to believe.”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been knocked down, it’s how many times you get up.”
This park on McKibben Street, between Bogart and White Streets, is named for one of Brooklyn’s leading civic figures. Gilbert Ramirez (1921-2000) was born on June 24, 1921, in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico and was blinded in early adulthood. He received a Bachelors of Arts and a teaching license from the University of Puerto Rico, and continued his education at Columbia University Teachers College and New York University. He ultimately attended Brooklyn Law School, where he completed the four-year night course in three years, working full-time during the day. After passing the Bar Exam, Ramirez began his legal career as a trial lawyer from a Brooklyn storefront office. In 1965, Ramirez became the first Puerto Rican elected to the New York State Assembly. His legislative career was shortened by redistricting, but in 1967 he served as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention.
Ramirez was appointed to the Family Court Bench by Mayor John V. Lindsay in 1968, and served until his election to the State Supreme Court in 1975. Ramirez recorded all of his court sessions on audiotape, and was famous for replaying key moments in the courtroom in order to jog his memory. He was affiliated with numerous professional organizations, including the New York Puerto Rican Bar Association, the National Black Bar Association, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services Corporation, and the Board of Directors of the Brooklyn Law School Alumni Association. He was appointed to the New York State Commission on the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, and to the State Board of Regents Select Commission on Disability in the early 1990s.
In addition to his distinguished legal career, Ramirez was a vocal and active community leader in the Williamsburg and Bushwick areas. He gave his time and expertise to the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the Board of Directors of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Association, the Brooklyn Council of Boy Scouts, and many other organizations.
In all of his capacities, Ramirez worked to end discrimination on the basis of race or disability. As a judge, Ramirez received many awards and commendations for his service both on and off the bench, including the Presidential Medal from Brooklyn College, the Emilio Nuñez Judiciary Award, an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Long Island University, and the keys to the City of Miami. Upon his retirement in 1997, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proclaimed a “Justice Gilbert Ramirez Day.” Ramirez died of cancer on December 23, 2000, at the age of 76.
Gilbert Ramirez Park opened to the public as McKibben Park in 1936. The original design included handball and basketball courts, horseshoes, shuffleboard, and senior swings. In 1999, Mayor Giuliani allocated $850,000 and City Council Member Victor Robles allocated $585,000 for the complete renovation of the site. Alecksandra Szefke’s whimsical design, which takes its inspiration from both the subway line and the proposed city water tunnel that run beneath the site, received the Art Commission Award for Excellence in Design in 2001. The materials and style of the construction reflect an exciting urban-industrial environment. The diagonal lines of the underground tunnels ascend to a play area with a subway theme. Musical chimes accompany a series of water spray arches. A fence along the edge of the property features cut-steel panels depicting neighborhood scenes. The park re-opened on May 2001 as Gilbert Ramirez Park. It stands as one more tribute to a memorable and inspiring man, who lived a life devoted to justice.