A street in University Heights was co-named after a woman who dedicated much of her life to improving conditions for her community.
Antonia Vazquez, the founder of the Davidson Community Center, was honored with a street co-naming at Davidson Avenue and West Burnside Avenue on Saturday, August 5.
Vazquez, who moved to 1985 Davidson Avenue in 1963, was a driving force behind bringing programs and services to a community that badly needed the assistance, right up until her passing in August 1993, according to sources.
Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who sponsored the legislation honoring Vazquez, said he was proud to have honored her at the intersection that was the site of one of her greatest achievements: Davidson Community Center.
“Antonia Vazquez was exactly the kind of person every community needs, and to whom our neighborhood streets are appropriately dedicated,” said Cabrera, adding “This is a great way to honor Ms. Vazquez and memorialize her legacy of service and love for this community.”
The start of her work harkened back to a more troubled time in the University Heights community, where she began a foot patrol with community members to help discourage crime.
She founded the Davidson Community Center in 1965 and incorporated it in 1968, at one point getting permission from her landlord to distribute information from a room in the basement of her building, said Angel Caballero, the center’s executive director who was Vazquez’s protégée.
“She was my mentor,” he said, calling her a leader and adding “She was always giving services to the community.”
In the 1960s, Hispanics who were then primarily Puerto Rican faced a language barrier that oftentimes hampered their efforts to obtain housing, learn about public assistance like food stamps or to find out about their elected officials, said Caballero, who’s been at Davidson for 42 years.
“She was a person of information for the community residents,” said Caballero.
Her passion was working with youth and making sure that they were well cared for, and she worked closely with Community Board 5 to close the street for youth to play in the summer, he said, adding that she developed a program for 500 to 600 young people.
‘Toni’, as she was known in the community, eventually became the vice-chair of CB 5, a post that Caballero holds today.
Aside from getting support of local elected officials, she was close with Mayor Beame and Mayor Koch, said Caballero.
She was very strong and persistent in getting funding from the city government for programing the community needed, he said.
Through her work with Mayor Koch and area landlords, she was able to develop affordable housing along Davidson Avenue, said Caballero.
Currently, Davidson Community Center provides a variety of programs and services that adhere to and expand on the Vazquez’s vision, said its executive director.
The center itself was renovated in three phases using city money, said its executive director.
It is located at 2038 Davidson Avenue and can be reached at (718) 731-6360.