By Seth Daniel
Before Michael Bivins was the ‘Biv’ in Bell Biv Devoe or the smooth voice of ‘Mike’ in the teen sensation New Edition, he was a heavy duty baller on the courts of Ramsey Park – shooting from the outside and dishing out passes on long, hot summer days.
Bivins, who grew up across Melnea Cass Boulevard in Orchard Gardens, returned to Ramsey Park last Thursday morning, Oct. 20, for a huge celebration that honored him by naming the basketball courts after him and also nodded to the youth of today who have advocated tirelessly to get improvements to the hard-luck park – which will be getting a $2 million renovation over the next several years.
“I never thought in my life I would have left the hood singing ‘Candy Girl,’ and then came back to the hood with a basketball court named after me,” he said, after spending a good part of 10 minutes thanking the people in the neighborhood who looked out for him when he was growing up. “Life is a journey. I want to say to all the other kids out there who are like me growing up here – keep your head up.”
Bivins told stories of his days playing on the courts in Ramsey, which at the time were located where the tennis courts are now. He spoke about playing in leagues and tournaments in Mission Hill, always motivated to get a trophy. Those days were dramatically changed for him in his teen years when he and four other teens from Roxbury and the South End formed New Edition – catapulting them into stardom, and later, into successful spinoff careers.
For Bivins, that next career was part of the 1990s band Bell Biv Devoe, which has recently reunited.
The courts were special to Bivins, he said, because he used to run a basketball tournament for charity in Ramsey – a tournament that attracted teams from all over and brought the community together in peace.
“This city is safe,” he said. “When they come to this tournament, the promise to act right and they do.”
Coach Willie Maye, formerly of WILD and now with the Boston Celtics, recalled being the announcer at Bivins’s tournaments. He said people would come from all over, and Bivins was great at finding people to help out, such as Todd Krinsky of Reebok.
“When Michael brought his Basketball Challenge here and using his connection with Reebok, he was able to make it a big thing,” he said. “He told me he had to have me come to do the announcing. They were great games and the prize was $10,000 for the winner. The first year, the lights went out at 10 p.m. right in the middle of it. The next year, the lights went out again because they were on a timer that shut off at 10 p.m. No one was bothered by it. We had teams coming from Boston, New York, New Jersey and I believe we had a team from Chicago here. It was always fun and always great basketball. It was just a lot of folks out here competing hard for that $10,000 prize.”
One long-time friend, Jeremy Rodriguez, said he went to school with Bivins and remembers playing with him on the old courts.
“We played out here all the time,” he said. “I was the defensive specialist and passer and he was the shooter. I’m proud they’re doing this for him.”
Mayor Martin Walsh was on hand to welcome Bivins to the park, and to announce the design plans for the $2 million renovation. He said he met Bivins during his campaign for mayor, and was impressed at how much the former singer wanted to give back to the city.
“New Edition was the music from my generation and we were proud of New Edition because they were from our city,” he said. “What they did for Boston was tremendous…From the time I first met Michael until now, every time I have reached out to him, it has never been ‘no.’ It’s always, ‘What do we need and how can I do it?’ He’s impressive. It’s not every person who can sell four million records with one track on it called ‘Poison.’”
He also mentioned the young people advocating for Ramsey to get better, noting that youth from St. Stephens Youth Programs were instrumental all summer in making changes and calling for changes.
“This park is going to get a $2 million renovation,” he said. “It’s due to the advocacy of our young people here in the community and it’s good to have our elected officials listening to these young people because they often see things that we don’t.”
The ceremony ended with an unveiling of the sign reading ‘Michael Bivins Court’ and a poetry reading by Orchard Garden Elementary students of ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ by Maya Angelou.