Tenacity thy name is Barbara Litt. For nearly two years, Barbara has not wavered in her mission and efforts to have a street named after her two daughters’ nursery school teacher. (Her daughters are 30 and 34!) That’s how much of an impression DiDi Ford left upon them and their lives and those of countless other children and families, which is why, when DiDi died in July 2022, Barbara began a campaign to name the corner of 94th Street and Riverside Drive, where River Park Nursery School is located, in her honor. To create a “secondary street name,” Barbara must fulfill certain requirements, including presenting the community board with a petition celebrating DiDi’s life, with 150 signatures. Below are the reasons Barbara feels so strongly about DiDi Ford, and how you can help.
By Barbara Litt
DiDi Ford began her teaching career at River Park Nursery School in 1969. She was the first African-American female teacher to work there. She supported and strengthened the all women-run school by dedicating her life to it, and was a trendsetter without knowing it: who knew about the power of women running a business in 1970? For the next 50 years, she was a pillar in the school and the community.
DiDi understood Shakespeare’s truth, “If music be the food of love, play on.” DiDi filled the classroom with song and music because she strongly believed this belonged in every child’s life for a minimum of thirty minutes a day. She provided musical activities that enriched the lives of the children and taught songs that were both fun and meaningful, and she even recorded a cassette of Riverpark favorites. A student remembered DiDi always with her guitar. One song remembered by a parent taught “You can get good milk from a brown skin cow ‘cause the color of the skin doesn’t matter anyhow.” (Hy Zaret and Lou Singer). Another alumni from the 1970s shared at DiDi’s memorial that she could still hear DiDi’s voice singing “I’m proud to be me, but I also see You’re just as proud to be you!” (Hy Zaret and Lou Singer), and she also treasured the impact DiDi made on her 45 years ago. Everyone at the memorial sang in DiDi’s memory “I’m proud to be me…”
DiDi never stopped learning. A part of her zeal was a tremendous interest in all world cultures. DiDi would create imaginative lessons that taught children to better understand the contributions and customs people have to make. She wanted children to love each other and to be proud of each child’s own heritage and respectful of all cultures.
At the core of DiDi’s early childhood curriculum was what she coined “The Hidden Curriculum” that included what she believed to be vital components of education: self respect, creativity and the inclusion of all people. River Park reflected that diversity and respect for others. One parent recalled she and her husband were concerned that her daughter was not respectful of others and was too bossy. DiDi observed the daughter and came back saying, “Bossy? No! She’s developing powerful leadership potential,” and put the parents’ minds at ease. She understood both children and parental concerns.
DiDi had the highest regard for all and for what contributed to the balance of the earth’s existence and practiced it personally and professionally.
DiDi was calm, natural, and herself with children, parents, and members of the community. She was never pretentious.
DiDi nurtured from the first moment some teary-eyed child was left at the door for the first day of school and knew how to help a child acclimate.
DiDi had a sensitivity for all people recognizing individual learning styles.
DiDi was a master teacher using the Rive Park philosophy of teaching the whole child academic, social, motor, and emotional skills and the Hidden Curriculum.
DiDi was vibrant and creative and committed to her work at River Park.
DiDi was dedicated to the community and made the annual River Park Bazaar an opportunity for those in need to find clothes, toys, and household goods at $1 a bag.
DiDi had a wonderful ability to blend her early childhood higher education, passion and her intuitive approach to this profession
DiDi set the bar high through her own example of commitment.
Thus, DiDi lived her life in service to River Park. She worked endlessly on issues that pertained to the school’s children. She came into work whenever she was needed even after she claimed she retired. She was not only a coworker but a genuine friend who balanced staff relationships so the teachers could grow together and still maintain their autonomy. Fifty years educating children on the Upper West Side is a remarkable achievement.
To honor her memory, “DiDi Ford Street” should be added to the corner of Amsterdam and W. 94th Street. To support this tribute, we need signatures for the Community Board. Please send a postcard or letter with the following:
Your Name Printed
“I support renaming 94/Amsterdam for DiDi Ford.
Send to: RIVER PARK NURSERY SCHOOL
711 AMSTERDAM AVENUE
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10025
Attn: DiDi Tribute
Read other street-naming stories here.