Francena (Josey) Grier, a community organizer, was posthumously honored with a street naming ceremony in the corner of Hamilton Avenue, where a large crowd that included politicians and local residents gathered on Tuesday evening to watch the street sign unveiling.
Grier, born in Camden, South Carolina in 1943, relocated to Paterson sometimes later, where she was enthusiastically active in the community, founding one of the earliest neighborhood watches in the city. “When she saw all these people hanging out on the street, she’d go out there, and run them away,” said Anna Marie Conyers, her sister. Louise Graham, a friend of Grier, who met her in church in Passaic interjects saying, Grier would tell the loiterers “if you don’t get outta here I’m going to call the police.” An obvious demonstration of courage that remains uncommon to this day.
When Grier, who worked at William Paterson University, was not busy with protecting her neighborhood and the surrounding streets from drug dealers and other petty criminals she was busy teaching Sunday school at the Grace Bible Class Church in Passaic, where she would take not only her kids but also the children of her neighbors. “It wasn’t just us, any kids she saw walking through the neighborhood — she’d get anybody’s kid and take them to church,” recalls Walter Grier, her son, an auto body technician. Another one of her son humorously recalls Grier’s strong belief in religion and seeing it as a path that would lead to improvement in the lives of youths, he says, “She used to fit 20 kids in her little Toyota and take them to Sunday school.”
Irene Wheeler, a friend of Grier’s, describes her as a “very soft spoken woman”, who despite exerting immense amount of energy and effort and time into the community never forgot her children. Wheeler said, “She didn’t just do things, and left her kids at home — she had her kids with her, and as they grew up they started to imitate her.” A sentiment confirmed by many of her children.
Hector Seda, a clergyman at St Augustine Presbyterian Church on Governor Street, who worked with Grier, said, “She was a fixture in this community and in our church,” he continued, “She’d help with the summer program; she’d help with the food pantry.” Her community efforts to weed out disorder and empower residents through community organizing is well known not only in the city’s religious establishments, but also amongst politicians.
Vera Ames-Garnes, a former 4th Ward councilwoman, who said she met Grier some two decades ago, when she became councilwoman said, “She kept everything intact.”
“She made people care about where they lived,” said Ames-Garnes. She told people, recalls Ames-Garnes, “This is your block; this is your house, take care of it!” Andre Sayegh, the 6th Ward councilman and the current president of the City Council, called Grier, who passed away in 2007, a “legend.”
During the ceremony Ruby Cotton, the 4th Ward councilwoman, read out the resolution that led to the street naming, honoring Grier. Cotton brought with her printed copies of the resolution for Grier’s family members, to whom she handed them out. A large framed copy of it was given to Nancy Grier, who has genetically received many of Grier’s traits of being an active and participating member of the community, almost welled up accepting it.
“We have a resolution here from the State of New Jersey in her memory,” said Shavonda Sumter, a member of the State Assembly, who held up the resolution, “this is going to be in the archives of Trenton – it will live in perpetuity for her.”