Places that Matter

Bedford YMCA

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Bedford YMCA
Bedford YMCA
Neighborhood athletic and recreational center
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Place Matters Profile

When the YMCA at Bedford Avenue and Monroe Street opened in 1904, it was considered the gem of the Brooklyn YMCA. One hundred years later it remains in its original building and continues to be an important resource for the community as an alternative to expensive private health clubs and under-funded public parks.

The Bedford YMCA was designed to serve as a flagship for the Y's then new emphasis on physical education. Among its original facilities were two skylit-gymnasiums, a fully tiled pool, and a bowling alley. These state-of-the-art facilities were not, however, available to African Americans who were relegated to a much smaller YMCA ten blocks away commonly known in the neighborhood as the "black Y."

Despite the official desegregation of the YMCA in 1943, de facto segregation and discrimination continued. By the mid-1950s, however, the Bedford-Stuyvesant community had become increasingly African American. Coupled with the closing of the "Black Y" in 1954 this led to the Bedford Y becoming first integrated and then predominately African American (after 1947 women were also allowed to use the facilities). Programs and services in this era included athletic events and competitions as well as social activities like dances and parties. Thelonious Monk is said to have played on the Y's chess team with Freddie Hubbard, and Connie Hawkins, Jerry Powell, Al Barton and Chet Thomas played basketball in the gym.

Unfortunately, this much-needed community resource was under-funded in the postwar years as it depended on membership dues and fees in an increasingly low-income neighborhood. This led to a strategy of "deferred maintenance" and eventually parts of the building were closed entirely between 1984 and 1988. Today the Bedford Y has regained much of its vitality due to several dedicated individuals such as former executive directors, Roscoe Reynolds and Kevin Jeffrey, and it is in the midst of a major capital campaign to entirely renovate its facility.

As a community resource the Bedford Y remains as vital as ever. In 2002, the Bedford Y served over 6,500 local youth, and it is now open daily from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. In addition to its recreational services, it runs a wide variety of “Virtual Y” programs that provide after-school literacy and learning enrichment to Bedford-Brownsville youth.

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