At Holiday Tree Lighting, a Community Activist Is Remembered

Screen shot 2011-12-12 at 10.10.18 AMDominique Zonyee Scott

Yuletide cheer spread through Tompkins Square Park on Sunday evening at the twentieth annual Holiday Tree lighting. About 75 locals sang along to “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” while sipping hot cocoa provided by Veselka.

The Theater for the New City’s Carolers of Olde New York quieted just before dusk, and the crowd counted down to the moment that bright white lights illuminated the park.

Albert Fabozzi, president of the Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood Coalition, said, “We have been doing this for 20 years, but this year was tough because I did it alone, without Kevin.” Kevin Dowd, the former vice president of the Neighborhood Coalition, died of lung cancer on March 8.

Mr. Fabozzi and Mr. Dowd met in the 80s, when Mr. Dowd was a New York University film graduate and Mr. Fabozzi was a hair stylist turned interior designer. The men shared a passion for the arts and an investment in the growth of Alphabet City.

Screen shot 2011-12-12 at 10.23.38 AMDominique Zonyee Scott

“They’re a wonderful inspiration for all of us in the community,” said Oscar Adrian, who owned an eponymous salon on East Seventh Street.

Mr. Fabozzi served as a chairperson on Community Board 3 and later formed the Neighborhood Coalition with Mr. Dowd and other activists striving to transform the park from a drug-infested homeless encampment. The Coalition co-hosted this year’s lighting along with the East Village Parks Conservancy.

Mr. Fabozzi planted the evergreen, now known as the Holiday Tree, 19 years ago in memory of Glenn Barnett, his boyfriend and best friend of 18 years, who died of A.I.D.S. in 1992. After nearly two decades of persistence, Mr. Fabozzi persuaded the Department of Parks and Recreation to install a “Holiday Tree” plaque on the gate surrounding the tree last year.

Samuel Shipman, 31, a graduate of N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts and Mr. Barnett’s cousin, was honored to be at the tree lighting event for another year. He recalled attending his uncle’s funeral when he was 12 years old.

“I remember when the white limousines circled around the park and everyone knew who my uncle was,” said Mr. Shipman.

Following the ceremony, friends and family gathered at Mr. Fabozzi’s art studio and home across from the park on East Seventh Street to toast and share warm memories of Mr. Dowd.

“The tree really means a lot to the community and is in remembrance of all East Village activists,” said Mr. Fabozzi. “Without Kevin, this would not be here.”