Robert “Bob” Humber
LOWER EAST SIDE COMMUNITY HERO
Robert “Bob” Humber was born in Georgia on June 12, 1936. At the age of 6, he and his family relocated to the Bronx during the Great Migration, a mass movement of Black Americans, moving from the South to the North.
Bob’s work in the LES, particularly Sara D. Roosevelt Park (SDR Park), began when he was a Special Education Teacher with the Children’s Aid Society based in Harlem. He was responsible for boys programming downtown. During the 1970s through the 1980s, SDR Park was a known hub of drugs, violence, and other dangerous activities that posed a threat to the community, but ultimately the kids who utilized the park everyday.
After many dangerous experiences, some near death, Bob made it his mission to clean up the park block by block – whether they were pregnant mothers, local activists, Parks officers, artists, dealers and users of drugs, police, homeless people, punk teenagers, hippies- were enlisted to help Bob reclaim the park for the children. Putting the kids at the center of the issue enabled him to build a radical coalition of unlikely players.
Bob’s main efforts were block-bound between Delancey and Rivington- the area known today as M’Finda Kalunga Garden. Bob started this project without knowing much about gardening. He committed himself to learning from a team of gardeners- people from the community who shared a passion about making SDR a safe park for the neighborhood.
His interest grew from gardening to the history of the land that the garden was occupying. The garden itself was a block away from the original site of the 2nd African Burial Ground, opened by the African Free Society after the first one was closed down near Wall Street. Bob knew that he needed to represent and honor the land and thus began his research into creating the perfect name to honor it. In 1982, M’Finda Kalunga was chosen as the garden’s name, meaning “Garden at the Edge of the Earth,” in the KiKongo language. Today, it is home to the longest running Juneteenth celebration in the Lower East Side.
Bob has created lasting relationships with families and residents all over the LES – becoming a surrogate father (and grandfather) to hundreds of kids in the neighborhood. His legacy of fostering relationships and helping those in need continues on in the neighborhood. If you get lucky, you might be able to catch him on a sunny day welcoming folks into the garden oasis of the M’Finda Kalunga Garden!
Bob Humber has been recognized by many as a local hero and was officially honored with a Lower East Side Community Hero award in 2018.
Written by Imani Vieira