South Orange Village Trustees may have done something historic on Monday, June 25, when they voted unanimously to rename the tennis courts at The Baird for Kenneth Allen Graham, a life-long South Orange resident who taught and championed tennis and always had kind words of advice for all. Graham passed away last year.
“To my knowledge (I’m still trying to verify), this will be first public facility in our town named after an African-American hero/icon and hopefully will be the first of more to come,” wrote South Orange Village President Sheena Collum on Facebook. “Stay tuned for details.”
Collum noted that “hundreds of residents” contacted the Township and signed a petition asking that the courts be renamed for Graham. In particular, she cited Jeannine Redd as the driving force behind the renaming. Collum also credited the South Orange Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee chaired by Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton for taking on the renaming process.
The Committee report read in part, “Naming the Baird Center’s tennis courts after Kenneth Allen Graham will stand as an ever-present testament to his legacy and memory, reminding us all of his daily presence, welcoming and reaching out to all the men, women, and children that came to play, watch or just pass by. Memorializing him in this way would also be proof in action of a diverse community’s commitment of inclusion, to recognize this African American elder, who exemplified South Orange’s spirit of community and integration.”
Friends, family and community members showed up in force on Monday and back in April to petition for and support the renaming.
An online petition to rename the courts for Graham states, “We the undersigned strongly endorse the naming of the newly refurbished tennis courts at the Baird Center in South Orange after Kenny Graham …. Kenny was a tennis instructor, friend, warm hearted support, community member and exceptional person who was loved by all who knew him at the courts. We believe that his memory and the inspiration that he was should live on in the place where he spent so much of his time and gave so much of his humor and care. The courts should bear his name and a plaque memorizing his memory should be visible to all who use the Baird courts.”
Per a resolution passed in 2008, the Board of Trustees needed first to establish a naming committee to make the recommendation. “We honor the recommendations from the committee,” Village President Sheena Collum assured the many residents who came to speak on April 9.
And on June 25, Collum and the Board of Trustees were true to her word.