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Help Save the Magnolia Tree Earth Center

Dr. Christopher Blaszczak-Boxe, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Chemistry at Medgar Evers College, Tracy Gray, educator, tech consultant and founder of The Sankofa Global Project, are both on the Magnolia Advisory Board. At right is Marlon Rice, Executive Director of Magnolia Earth Tree Center of Bedford Stuyvesant. Photo: Lem Peterkin

In the late 1960’s, a woman named Hattie Carthan noticed that a massive Magnolia Tree was growing in her neighborhood. Magnolia Trees aren’t known to grow much in the north, so to have a 45-foot Magnolia sitting tall and mighty on Lafayette Avenue was a special thing indeed. The tree sat in front of three brownstones which were slated to be demolished. Knowing that the tree was a special occurrence, and with the understanding that the children in this community could only benefit from forming a relationship with their environment, Hattie decided that saving the tree and the brownstones that it stood in front of was important to this community. She put all of her time and resources into saving the tree. In 1970, The NYC Landmarks Commission named the Magnolia Tree in front of 679 Lafayette Avenue an NYC Landmark. 

Hattie turned to her own community to raise the funds needed to purchase the buildings. The community answered her call and in 1972 Hattie Carthan founded the Magnolia Tree Earth Center to be a place for the children in our community to be given the chance to learn about urban ecology, gardening, tree care, and about the environment as a whole. For 47 years, the Magnolia Tree Earth Center and the story of The Lady and The Tree have served as a quiet reminder that community and cultural victories happen when regular citizens invest their time and resources into serving and supporting things that enrich us all. Because of Hattie Carthan’s work, over 1500 trees were planted on over 100 blocks in Brooklyn, an environmental victory unmatched in its time. 

When I took the position of Executive Director for Magnolia Tree in May 2019, I was charged with the task of revitalizing Hattie’s mission and restoring our three-building complex. The front of our buildings are literally falling apart. There has been a scaffold placed in front of 678 and 679 Lafayette Avenue since 2010 because of the pressing need for facade repair. Not only is the scaffold an eyesore for our neighbors and for the entire community, but it is literally choking the life from the massive Magnolia Tree that Hattie worked so selflessly to save almost 50 years ago.   Since May 2019, we have begun the process of continuing in the legacy of Hattie Carthan.

We partnered with NASA and City Tech to assist in analyzing surface temperatures and the heat island effect in Bedford Stuyvesant. We’ve created programming to support STEM education in our community by providing children with fun and informative opportunities to engage in STEM curriculum outside of school. We’ve created programming to engage NYCHA residents with basic gardening and home-growing workshops. We have continued Project Green, a wonderful program that gives us an opportunity to donate Magnolia Trees to schools in our community. We’ve opened a weekly community yoga class, and have begun curating discussions about everything from Gardening, to Fitness, to Being an Entrepreneur.

We’ve built relationships with Medgar Evers College, New York City Tech, The Lower East Side Ecology Center, Village Vines, and other institutions and organizations committed to Environmental Education and Awareness. We are making plans to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the tree being designated a living landmark. Most importantly though, we are engaging again with the children in our community, something that was so dear to Hattie’s mission.And, while we are beginning to point the organization in the right direction, our very home is threatening to crumble right under us.

Repairing the buildings, and removing the scaffold are the most important issues that we must face head-on if we plan for this amazing organization to survive. Just as Hattie did in the early 70’s, in order to save the buildings and the tree we must once again ask the community for its support. We need YOUR help. We need to raise $500,000 to repair the building and remove the scaffold. That figure may seem insurmountable, but we know that every dollar counts. Please, please, help us continue our work in this community by donating whatever you can to our Save Magnolia Tree Campaign. Your donation is tax-deductible and will ensure that our tree can once again serve as an environmental beacon of the community in Bed Stuy.

To Donate through Paypal, search for username: magnolia@magnoliatreeearthcenter.com  To Donate by check or money order, send to: Magnolia Tree Earth Center, 677 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11216. Or, for more information on how to donate, contact us at: (718) 387-2116 or email us at: mrice@mganoliatreeearthcenter.com

Our Magnolia Tree represents both a community and a cultural victory in this neighborhood. Please help us ensure that the history of this community doesn’t disappear. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

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