John Isaacs in 2003, seated in front of the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem..

John Isaacs in 2003, seated in front of the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem.

If a community initiative passes final City Council approval, New York City will rename a Bronx street after former Harlem Rens star John Isaacs. It is a section of Hoe Avenue that runs alongside the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club where Isaacs worked as a youth counselor for nearly 50 years.

Just in time for Father’s Day is this news from Karen Isaacs, the daughter of former New York Rens basketball star John Isaacs, that — pending final approval — New York City will rename a street after him.

The street to be renamed is the section of Hoe Avenue in the Bronx that runs alongside the Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club — the place where her father worked as a youth counselor for nearly 50 years, right up until his death in 2009. The facility was formerly named the Hoe Avenue Boys & Girls Club.

That section of Hoe Avenue will be renamed “John Isaacs Way,” according to Maria Dixon, a 30-year veteran of the clubhouse who is its office manager.

The street re-naming is the initiative of the Alumni Council of the club, which stages an annual reunion celebration and fundraiser. Though their initiative is not finalized, it seems virtually assured.

Where it stands, according to his daughter, is that the Alumni Council appeared this week before the full body of Bronx Community Board 3, where district manager John Dudley — who was a close friend of Isaacs — allowed each council member to speak briefly in support of its renaming initiative. The matter was then put up for a vote and received unanimous approval by the Community Board.

This initiative now goes before the City Council for final approval in December, backed by the full support of the local community board. With such favorable backing, barring unforeseen circumstances, the request is expected to go through.

Subsequent to the City Council’s vote in December, the Boys & Girls Club Alumni Council will get to select the date of the unveiling of the renamed street. “In case you are wondering about the date we’ll select, it is already slated for Saturday, June 30, 2012, during our 15th Annual Alumni Reunion,” says Alumni Council secretary William Tyler III, while also exclaiming, “Be there!”

This year’s Hoe Avenue Alumni Reunion will be held at the Smilow Clubhouse on Saturday, June 25 starting at 10:00 a.m., featuring games, contests, prizes, medals, scholarships, and food.

It is a terrific accomplishment to honor your father by helping to have a street renamed after him. And this is very likely the first time a city street has been named or renamed after a Rens player, a Washington Bears player, or after any Black Fives Era player for that matter. Let’s make sure it is the first of many, not just in New York City but in other municipalities where these basketball pioneers made a difference in their communities.

In addition to the Hoe Avenue renaming, the city will also rename a section East 173rd Street that runs along the other side of the Smilow Clubhouse building after Harold Simpson, the club’s long time community outreach director. Isaacs and Simpson, a former corrections officer, worked together tirelessly for many years in a dedicated effort to encourage gang members off the street and to keep them off. “That pair gave all they could give, and it saved a lot of youngsters’ lives,” says Dixon, who cites the respect that Isaacs had built up over the years, partly through basketball, as being responsible for his success in terms of bonding with kids at the club.

Those youngsters who knew John Isaacs know that there was already a “John Isaacs Way.” It was, “My way, or the highway.” In a sense, this street renaming immortalizes that no-nonsense yet loving approach for which Isaacs was known far and wide across generations. Now, many of the members of the club’s Alumni Council, some of whom are former gang members or would have been, are giving back in appreciation of what Isaacs, Simpson, and other Boys & Girls Club staff once did to guide them.

“Mr. Isaacs’ chair is still there,” Dixon says. “When kids see other kids sitting in it they say, ‘You can’t sit there, that’s Mr. Isaacs’ chair!’”

Please show your support of this street renaming initiative by leaving a positive comment below, or by writing to the Bronx Community Board 3:

Bronx Community Board #3
1426 Boston Road
Bronx, NY 10456

And please go on and mark the date in your 2012 calendar (June 30) for this most memorable and fitting occasion.