Sign honors love that Larry Selman ‘collected’

At the dedication of “Larry Selman Way,” from left, Alice Elliot, Deborah Glick, Kathy Donaldson, Corey Johnson and Sally Dill.  Photo by Tequila Minsky
At the dedication of “Larry Selman Way,” from left, Alice Elliot, Deborah Glick, Kathy Donaldson, Corey Johnson and Sally Dill. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY  |    The corner of Bedford and Grove Sts. is now Larry Selman Way, named for the street’s relentless fundraiser and community activist who died in 2013 at age 70.

On Tues., Oct. 6, the sidewalk was packed with members of the Bedford St. Block Association and Community Board 2, and other neighbors and friends spilling into the streets to mark the occasion. Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Councilmember Corey Johnson emceed the event.

Larry Selman, who lived on Bedford St., would often base himself at that corner, hitting up passersby — neighbors, tourists, everyone he encountered, for causes like cancer, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 9/11 victims, the annual AIDS Walk, muscular dystrophy, juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy or for disabled firefighters. He sold thousands of dollars of raffle tickets for the block association and got to know everybody.

Johnson reminded those present that he did it for $1, and sometimes only a few cents, at a time.

“He built a community on a foundation of generosity and service,” Johnson said.

Selman was developmentally disabled with an IQ below 60 and was practically living in poverty himself, which made his community participation so much more remarkable.

When neighbors learned of his financial situation, they pitched in to contact social services and other support that helped him live comfortably and independently.

Glick highlighted how significant it was that this block of neighbors came together in the true sense of community. She noted that, in a time of rising rents, and changing demographics, this sort of solidarity is increasingly hard to find.

Selman’s life gained more attention when his neighbor Alice Elliot made a short documentary about him, “The Collector of Bedford Street.” The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 and the two attended the awards in Hollywood that year.

With the movie, Selman’s life changed. For eight years, he attended film festivals and premieres of the film, traveling to 18 states and two countries, Canada and Dubai, accompanied by his neighbor and friend Sally Dill. At the street sign dedication, Dill recounted their travels.

“Larry received The Caring Award [for outstanding contributions as a volunteer] in 2009 along with Colin Powell at the Frederick Douglass Museum in downtown L.A.,” she recalled. “He hit up Powell for a donation following receiving the award.”

Powell gave him a bill — a $100 one.

After the remembrances of Selman, those who knew him so well yanked the rope to pull off the paper covering and unveil the sign. They then gathered in the yard at the Greenwich House Music School, at 46 Barrow St., for a casual reception.

A plaque with his name sits in a tree pit outside of his Bedford St. apartment building. But the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association, led by its president, Kathy Donaldson, wanted to recognize Larry Selman in a larger way. The co-named street was the result of the dedicated efforts of the block association, the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office. Mayor de Blasio signed a bill authorizing “Larry Selman Way” on Aug. 10, 2015.