By Maria Clark
Shirley Flowers was more than just a lifelong resident of the Jose de Diego-Beekman houses which span East 138th, 143d St., and St. Ann’s and Jackson Avenues.
Flowers, who died in May from complications related to diabetes, was Beekman’s most ardent protector for over 30 years, fighting to keep crime and violence from creeping into the 1200- apartment complex.
In the late 1970s, Flowers co-founded a tenant organization to get drugs out of the 38 buildings that comprise the Beekman houses. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she tried to helped fight a ruthless drug gang called the Wild Cowboys that had taken control of the neighborhood while using Beekman Avenue as a crack peddling center.
Flowers set up a tenant patrol in the late 1980s to keep drugs away. A New York Times article from November 5, 1991, describes her sitting alone in the lobby of her building six days a week from morning until night trying her best to ward off suspicious strangers.
Despite the dangers, Flowers continued to work with troubled youth in the neighborhood.
Her friend, Mott Haven housing advocate Arline Parks, remembers Flowers as “a mother figure to a lot of people in the neighborhood. She wasn’t just a resident, she was involved in everything that had to do with the neighborhood.
“She would get on the kids when they were doing something they had no reason doing,” said Parks. “She would see what a lot of kids were doing and she would tell their mothers.”
Flowers’ daughter Sharon White remembers her mother sitting on their front stoop with a mason jar by her side, asking for donations to fund block parties she organized every year on Beekman Avenue. She organized the parties every year for the past 20 years, until last year, White said.
“She didn’t just live here, she was always involved,” Parks remembered.