As a newly retired United States Postal Service employee, Melvin Jones, 65, is excited to use his free time to once again run laps around the track and sit down on the bleachers of the newly renovated Memorial Field, to reminisce on the nearly 50 years in which he’s grown up in the city of Mount Vernon.
After being closed down for over 10 years and going through four different mayors, the construction and rebuilding of Mount Vernon’s Memorial Field is currently in progress. In partnership with Westchester County, the field is now set to be completed by late summer of 2022 and open in the fall of 2022 according to an interview with Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard.
Like Jones, many residents of Mount Vernon have long awaited the reopening of Memorial Field. A place where community members exercised as early as 5 a.m., gathered for events like concerts and cheered on their Mount Vernon Football team, the Knights, at games.
Growing up, Jones considered Memorial Field a place where he would spend time with childhood friends to watch football games, “stay out of trouble” and even have his high school graduation ceremony.
“Memorial field is a landmark.” Jones said. “It was a safe haven for everyone in the area to relax and unwind and let your guard down.”
When Memorial Field closed down, Jones felt like it was a “big loss” to the community and created a disconnect between residents of Mount Vernon as they no longer had a singular place to commune.
“Memorial Field was an eyesore” Jones said. “When you get off the parkway the first thing you see is Memorial Field. I didn’t want everybody to look at Memorial Field and think Mount Vernon was that way and it’s not.”
In efforts to make a difference and change the direction of the city, on July 15, 2020, Mount Vernon in collaboration with the County of Westchester, determined The LandTek Group, Inc., submitted the low bid in the amount of $24,883,600 million to begin construction of Memorial Field, according to an official press release by Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard.
Two years later and day by day, the field is one step closer to completion. Jones believes that Mayor Patterson-Howard worked hard to “get the ball rolling” to make real progress on Memorial Field.
The renovated Memorial Field will feature a NCAA regulation football field, an eight-lane track, tennis courts, locker rooms, a skateboard park and seating for up to 3,900 people.
Additionally, in the midsts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitation of social gatherings and in person events, the reopening of Memorial Field will also allow Mount Vernon residents to get back outside again and reconnect with one another.
Nelda Bianca Bazil, 64, Founder and President of We Run Mount Vernon, believes that the reopening of Memorial Field will encourage residents of Mount Vernon to take ownership of their physical health and fitness.
“For our survival we must, absolutely must, have movement,” Bazil said. “And that’s what Memorial Field will bring back to our community, an opportunity for us to be able to move.”
We Run Mount Vernon consists of a group of individuals whose goal is to get the community healthier by “encouraging movement as part of a daily routine” according to the We Run Mount Vernon website. Members of We Run Mount Vernon participate in weekly walks, runs, and hikes and conduct a one-hour fitness program for children. They also host an annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5k run/walk and are currently planning for their 2022 trot.
“We want our children to know that physical activities should become part of your daily routine” Bazil said. “Were trying to shift the mindset for our kids…the next generation of Mount Vernon citizens should have fitness as part of a regularly scheduled thing that they do and then they can pass that baton to their children.”
Physical inactivity is more common among racial and ethnic minorities in most states according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given that Mount Vernon consists of 62.7% of Black or African American people, and 17.4% of Latinx people according to the United States Census Bureau, Bazil believes that physical activity is a key component in reducing health disparities among these populations.
“We want folks to know that the citizens in the City of Mount Vernon like any other city are concerned about health and our mission is that we are able to shift the paradigm in the next generation of our children,” Bazil said.
Young Mount Vernon residents like Timothy Crump, 22, who also grew up here, believes that the completion of the field is a steppingstone to a greater Mount Vernon not only aesthetically, but also in regard to leadership.
“There’s so many things that one person can do but in order to change a community, it takes a community” Crump said. “It’s all a matter of how everyone gets together after Memorial Field is built. Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Echoing this same sentiment, Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard is optimistic about the completion of Memorial Field and the various programming surrounding arts, culture and fitness that residents can part take in. She is also excited for the long-term economic growth that the reopened field will provide for the city.
Patterson-Howard wants to ensure there is a “balance” of free and paid programming along with contracts, advertising, and special events that would allow for “long term maintenance and operations of the Memorial Field venue.”
[Editorial Note: The Westchester County Board of Legislators approved an addition $10 millions dollars to complete the rebuilding and reimagining of Memorial Field, Monday, April 25, 2022. Legislator Tyrae Woodson-Samuel gave Black Westchester the following statement:
“Last month, the Board of Legislators approved an additional $10 million to complete the rebuilding and reimagining of Memorial Field. As Mount Vernon residents know, this incredibly important gateway facility is absolutely vital to our city’s economic development and our future. It is truly wonderful to see that big “MV” outlined on the new grandstands as the stadium project nears completion. We understand that inflation and supply chain issues have increased the final cost of the stadium, the new field, the running track, locker rooms, press box, high tech signage and concession space, but I’m thankful of the support my colleagues on the Board showed in joining me in support of the new Memorial Field. And I continue to appreciate the historic partnership between Westchester County, led by County Executive Latimer, and the City of Mount Vernon, led by Mayor Patterson-Howard. This shows what government can – and should – do when we work together”
Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins reached out to Black Westchester to remind everyone, “Westchester County is building the stadium complex and turning it back to Mount Vernon after construction is completed.”
Stay tune to Black Westchester for more on the rebuilding and reimagining of Memorial Field]