Groups team up for cemetery

Published 1:07 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two recently-formed organizations are joining forces to help better the community.

The Better Man Coalition, which assists formerly incarcerated and homeless men, has teamed up with a group working to improve conditions at the Oak Lawn Cemetery in downtown.

Malcolm Jordan, a Better Man Coalition worker, trims overgrown weeds around cement vaults at the Oak Lawn Cemetery, located near 440 Market St., on Friday. Workers from the group are helping another group that has been caring for the cemetery.

“They’re doing a good thing,” said Tracy Stewart, who has been working since April to help clean up the formerly neglected cemetery. “They’re helping us do a good thing, too.”

Email newsletter signup

The Better Man Coalition helps the men by offering them a place to live, clothing and food in exchange for doing work at a lawn care service, car wash, barber shop and home repair. The men also gain job skills through their work and can receive assistance with setting up payment plans for debts, getting their GED, receiving counseling and more.

Stewart began helping to care for Oak Lawn Cemetery this spring, after he happened to pass by and realized the grass was higher than his head. The cemetery holds hundreds of graves of the city’s most prominent black citizens, but nobody will claim ownership of the property — and nobody kept it up, until Stewart got involved.

He tried organizing community clean-up events, but only a handful of people showed up, so he wound up doing much of the work himself.

Then, he read about the Better Man Coalition in the Suffolk News-Herald. He contacted Bob Battaglia, who helped form the group, and enlisted their help.

“It’s a good thing,” said Malcolm Jordan, one of the workers with the Better Man Coalition. “I feel like it needed to be done.”

On Friday, the Better Man workers trimmed, raked and bagged debris, leaves, dead grass and more from among the graves.

“We were kind of looking forward to a contract like this,” Jordan said. “I consider it a blessing. There’s no telling what a lot of these guys would be doing right now.”

Stewart said he appreciates the help the cemetery is receiving from the Better Man Coalition. He gave the group equipment to help them with the work and to use on other jobs.

“I think they’re doing a good job,” Stewart said.

For more information on the cemetery efforts, call 434-6713. For more information on the Better Man Coalition, call 809-4500.