B r o w n s v i l l e B r i l l i a n c e P l ay l i s t
7 FEATURE WE ARE NOT OUR BIGGEST MISTAKE
OUR CULTURE 7
FEATURE WHY NOT MOTT
#BRownsvillebrilliance COVER STORY
COVER STORY 32
FEATURE THEN AND NOW 40
EDITORIAL LETTER When I think of Brownsville, the first word that comes to mind is resilience. According to Webster’s dictionary resilience is defined as tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Here lies a community that is not represented in state legislature because there are vacant seats in the senate and assembly. Children have died at the hand of children because there is more access to guns than jobs, trade schools, and mental health support. This place whose motto is “Never ran never will” boasts the highest number of housing development in the nation with an average income of $32,800 compared to $50,200 in New York City. So where are the positive stories about the talented, gifted, extraordinary people who live here? How can a community that has been denigrated to being the worst neighborhood in Brooklyn ever feel a sense of success? These questions could not be answered by the seven million negative results that come up on Google. I am proud to introduce to you the #TheScoreMHBA, our Brownsville Brilliance edition, which gives voice to the talents and beautiful essence that exists in this community. Inspired by the lack of positive stories, Mott Hall Bridges Academy collaborated with The SWT Life & SCORE Magazine founder, Syreeta Gates to launch an online magazine that would provide a platform for our scholars to share their own perspective about Brownsville to bring forth their positive images and stories to social media. To the outside world, Brownsville is the forbidden and often forgotten land, but to those who were born here, she is the home of Champions like Mike Tyson; lyrical geniuses RZA, UGod, General Steele, and Masta Ace; notable journalist, Nelson George and Larry King. The process of researching, writing, and publishing allowed our scholars to deepen their understanding that there is power in their own words that will undoubtedly influence the world’s perception of their community. Be Inspired. Be Ignited. Be Informed. Enjoy our Brownsville Brilliance! Grace and Peace, Nadia Lopez Principal of Mott Hall Bridge Academy
Syreeta Gates Founder Nadia Lopez Creative Director Quardean Lewis-Allen Art Director Amelia Rawlins Copy Editor Whitney Nakamura Copy Editor Britt Sense Contributing Photographer Richard Brathwaite Contributing Photographer
Dion Turner Writing Contribution
Nadia Lopez Writing Contribution
Alyssa St. Hill
Randy C. Millard Writing Contribution
Quardean Lewis-Allen Writing Contribution
yOUR STEPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE By Dominique Harrell
Step Up or Step Aside was started by Ms. Achu, the Director of Programs at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. As a member of Delta Sigma Theta, she stepped in college and really loved it which resulted in her creating the Royal Vision Step Team. Due to the lack of step competions in New York City, she was inspired to create the schoolâ€™s very own that would feature middle and high schools. Drawing back to her early college days, she believed that creating a healthy competition where children could showcase their talents and send a positive message to the community. Here is what some of the steppers had to say about Step Up or Step Aside: Q: What did you enjoy about Step Up or Step Aside? Zaria Mathews: I enjoyed the music and the skits at the step show. Leana Rodriguez: I enjoyed that it was hosted at our school and people can see what wonderful things we do in Brownsville. Q: How did you feel about being in the show? Zaria Mathews: I felt excited and happy. Leanna Rodriguez: I felt proud that I was setting an
example of Brownsville Brilliance. Q: What do you think about Ms. Achuâ€™s idea to create this team? Zaria Mathews: It was a good idea because I was excited to be in the show. Leanna Rodriguez: I think it was amazing that Ms. Achu could create something so extravagant. I think it was a good idea because it allowed people to come together. /////
SHE IS ME By Alyssa St. Hill
She Is Me is an all-girl program that empowers young females that may not be confident and shows them how to grow and be intelligent, strong woman that love the skin theyâ€™re in.
Top: Left to right: Michaela angela Davis and Lilâ€™ Mama Bottom: Women holding hands in solidarity during She Is Me luncheon
Left to right: Renae Bluitt, Dr. Wendi Williams, CennĂŠ Anderson, Mecca Moore, Taiia Smart-Young , Nadia Lopez, Kathy Bowman-Williams, Michaela angela Davis, Wendy McLean.
She Is Me is an open discussion that allows young women to talk about their feelings or anything that has been bothering them. The program is very serious about one rule: confidentiality. Whatever someone talks about in the group must not be spoken about outside the group. This rule is very important because someone who might be going through an issue and talks about it may not want others to know about it. Young women in the She Is Me program are taught that they are not told enough that they are beautiful. They are taught how to love themselves and not be ashamed of who they are because that is the skin they are in and it will not change. /////
INITIATIVE Health & Wellness Session Friday, January 10, 2014 10:30 am -1:00 pm Brookdale Hospital Samuel Schulman Institute Auditorium 555 Rockaway Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY The I Matter Initiative is a series that engages 100 young African American men from NYC public schools in discussions. During this session, keynote speaker Ernest Logan, President of CSA and health professionals will help youth understand the importance of their health, Brookdale services for the community and career opportunities in the health field.
By Nadia Lopez
(Lunch served from 12:00 pm -1:00pm)
Left to right: Randall Parker , Antonio Edmund, Huey Ferguson, Keith White, Marlon Peterson, Anthony Morris, Leighton Murdock, Steve Saint Fleur
I attended a meeting facilitated by officials from the 73rd Precinct, located across the street from Cross Roads, a juvenile detention center, regarding gang relationships throughout the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. In total there were 18 identifiable gangs that claim various housing developments, blocks and corners within the community; many of the members are young, some in the 4th grade, committing violent crimes, which include robberies and and assault . According to Lieutenant David S. Glassberg, “Brownsville is the most segregated community, these beefs are generational and what it comes down to is poverty and the need for survival. Today’s victim is tomorrow’s perpetrator.” As the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, I am faced with the reality of being located in the impact zone where all of these gangs live and recruit members---every single day. Poverty and the lack of positive role models are factors that lead our young men into a life of crime, which is why the I MATTER initiative was created. We provide a platform for young men of color to engage in dialogues with professionals regarding college and career readiness, as
well as financial literacy. The I MATTER Initiative was inspired by the issues of Stopand-Frisk, the death of Trayvon Martin, and the murder of 16 month old Antiq Hennis. There are far too many stories of our boys dying, becoming incarcerated or not meeting academic standards. How could our boys ever consider themselves as significant or the descendent of kings when socieity shows them otherwise in the media and within their community. This initiatve reminds our boys that their lives are important and worthy to be acknowledged. It is an innovative approach to providing education that goes beyond the classroom; it offers opportunities for at-risk youth and those young men who do not have the opportunity to be exposed to individuals who have experienced similar adversities, yet through their own resilience and determination, they became a success. The responsibility of saving our young men is ours---collectively transforming the neighborhood back to a community! /////
Next Generation Riders prepare for procession at Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement Districts Easter Parade. 2014.
EDUCATION IS THE KEY
TO . UNLOCK THE GOLDEN DOOR - George Washington Carver
Top: Alonzo, far left, led the Municipal Art Society of New York’s Jane’s Walk tour of Brownsville, organized by Brownsville Community Justice Center. The mural was created on BCJC’s Belmont Ave Service Day by XMENTAL.
FIGHTING VIOLENCE IN B-VILLE By Jaysha Stanback
Brownsville Anti-violence Project youth cohort
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Mateo, who was born and raised in Brownsville. Erica has always been very passionate about making an impact on the lives of Brownsville’s youth which led her to create an anti-violence project at the Brownsville Justice Center.
Q: What inspired you to start your project at the Justice Center?
Q: Have you been able to reduce crime and incarceration in Brownsville?
Before launching the Brownsville Anti-Violence Project, I worked with court-involved youth (16-24 years old) in Brownsville through the Justice Community program at the Brownsville Community Justice Center. Together young people and I worked on achieving their educational and professional goals. During this time, working with young people, I learned that they were looking for alternatives to idle and unproductive time. I saw so much potential in each young person to work on issues important to themselves and their community. They inspired me all the time.
I hope so! The anti-violence project is working with a team of researchers to measure the impact of its initiatives. The project is still young (only a year old!). The impact of the project is still being studied.
Gun and gang violence is one of the pressing issues in the community. When the chance came to launch the anti-violence program, I jumped at the opportunity to encourage and leverage the talents of young people to tackle this important issue. I believe they are the best people to advise on what would be the most effective strategies for developing alternatives to violence and spread the anti-violence message. They have yet to disappoint! Q: Are you from Brownsville? Yes. I grew up in the Langston Hughes Houses and I graduated from P.S/I.S 284. I still live in Brownsville as well as my mother and cousins. Q: Why are you the best person to help reform Brownsville young people? I don’t necessarily think that I’m the best person to reform Brownsville young people. I don’t tend to take the approach of “reform” when working with youth. I believe my role is to help young people imagine a brighter future for themselves, and then equip them with the best tools for the job. Young people are so capable of making good decisions. I think they just need more motivation to do so. When you can show them that their dreams are possible and there are tangible steps they can take to make their dreams a reality, they are less likely to make bad decisions and jeopardize what is important to them. 16
On an individual, 1 to 1 case management basis, I have been able to deter incarceration. Q: What does Brownsville Brilliance mean to you? The instinct and intuition that is uniquely homegrown and nurtured in Brownsville to make a big, beautiful, bright and positive impact on anything that we put our minds to.
I saw so much potential in each young person to work on issues important to themselves and their community. They inspired me all the time.
Q: Tell me more about your journey to the Brownsville Community Justice Center. What was that like?
I graduated from Bard College in 2011, where I majored in cultural anthropology. My first job out of college was working for the Brownsville Partnership helping to support existing programs that helped keep Brownsville residents housed. In 2012, I began working for the Justice Center on youth programs and then, in 2013, I launched the anti-violence project. In the past, I also worked to help prisoners complete college degrees, survivors of sexual abuse receive compensation for crime related debt, map and address blight in post-Katrina New Orleans, and connect women returning from prison to necessary resources. /////
Groundswell mural at Pitkin Avenue and created with Brownsville Community Justice Center members amd Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District.
ReAL Young Professionals of Ocean Hill-Brownsville By Madelyne Martinez Ocean Hill’s own advocate Andrea McCullough creates the community in which she wishes to see. In an interview she quotes Stokely Carmichael in regards to why it is important to do work in the neighborhood she is from. As a Community Board #16 member and Chairperson of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Andrea shares with us why it is not only necessary to do this work, but why she is the one to make it happen. Q: Why participate in an organization in Brownsville? Traditionally, the black community recognized the power of organizing to bring change. For Brownsville, outside organizations have come in overtime to bring change but have not been able to sustain traction and growth because the perspective was that of an outsider, not one of a resident who knows what the community needs. In this age of accelerated gentrification of urban areas, the only way for residents to maintain their position and reap the benefits that gentrification brings is for the residents to organize, make their voices heard in large numbers that cannot be ignored and penetrate the system, on every level of government and in every city agency.
It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations. 18
- Stokely Carmichael
Andrea McCollough, Chair of Ocean Hill Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals
Q: What are your responsibilities as the Chair of CYP? As Chair of CYP, I act as head hype man for our organization, programs and initiatives, making connections that will lead to partnerships and, hopefully, funding. I also act as guardian of our vision to make our community a viable place to live, work and socialize. Operationally, it means that I do a little bit of everything as we build the organization. Q: Are you from Brownsville? I’m from the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville which is a bit of a Bermuda triangle in Eastern Brooklyn. It’s not Bedford-Stuyvesant or East New York, but is its own neighborhood. I was born at Unity Hospital on Eastern Parkway, which is long gone, and I was raised in Atlantic Plaza Towers where I still reside. I’m from Ocean Hill, up the hill. Q: What was your journey like from a middle schooler to where you are now? I went to middle school in East New York at RFK Incentive Program, a catholic preparatory junior high that is unfortunately closed. RFK and its faculty were phenomenal; it still stands as my most challenging educational experience and where I truly learned to study and push myself academically. Because of the
preparation I received there, I was placed in the Oliver Program, a nonprofit organization that places inner city youth at private schools locally and along the east coast. They placed me at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, an isolated small private school where the challenge was more social than academic. After graduating SPS, I attended Northwestern University as a civil engineering major but turned a corner midway and changed my major to photography, completing my degree at Purchase College, School of Art + Design, a SUNY school. After school, I worked briefly at Corbis, a stock photo agency, but landed a full time position at B&N where I continue to work as a Purchasing Manager. While holding down my 9 to 5, I hold several unpaid, volunteer positions in the neighborhood: community board member, chair of CYP and co-director of my tenant association in addition to sitting as a community stakeholder for other organizations. Looking back over my life, I understand why the detours had to happen and looking ahead, as I plan to go back to school for my MBA, I’m excited to see what more God has in store for me and my community. Q: Do you run CYP full time? CYP is a volunteer labor of love for everyone involved. We know how necessary an organization is to Ocean Hill-Brownsville and we are committed
to its success. I do look forward to the day when we have funding to have paid staff though. Q: What does Brownsville Brilliance mean to you? The term brought to mind the chorus of Red Café’s song Fly Together. Brownsville is a small closeknit community and we are protective of our own and supportive of each other. So when I shine, you shine, we shine together. Q: How do you change the perception of Brownsville? By telling our story, ourselves. Too often, reporters come in, spend a day in the life of someone, and publish an article painting life in Brownsville as though everyone in Brownsville lives that life, faces those exact challenges and resolves to deal with those challenges in the same manner. We know that is not the case. To change the perception of Brownsville, the story of a mother who had her child as a teenager and who earned her degree shortly after her son earned his degree needs to be heard. This mother celebrated her son’s marriage recently. To change the perception, the story of a young man who will start college in the fall, after taking a year off after high school to develop several small businesses, needs to be heard. He
understands that education will open doors but also that there are several ways to financially secure his future. To change the perception, the story of a man who understands that when he walks into his school as the Dean of Students in Brownsville, that he is uncle, godfather, father, brother, friend and disciplinarian to the students walking the halls and sitting in his office. And he doesn’t take any of those roles lightly because he remembers when he was a young boy himself, going to school in Brownsville. To change the perception, the narrative doesn’t need to be changed. The full story needs to be told, by us. Q: What power do you think young people have? Young people have power in their creativity and the ability to find resolutions to existing problems with new technology. They have power in their numbers, as seen in their ability to send messages to their networks that can reach hundreds, if not thousands, quickly. They have power in their compassion, coupled with their numbers, which can drive social progress and change the hearts of everyone involved. As community leaders, our role is to clear all obstacles preventing them from walking in their full power because young people are most powerful when they are aware of the power they possess and use it to better themselves and their community. /////
Ocean Hill Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals monthly meeting every first Saturday of the month at Riverrock, 774 Rockaway Ave
Rediscover what is By Quardean Lewis-Allen
In the Spring of 2013, I was hanging out at my desk in the Brownsville Partnership office in the midst of my year off from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. I was doing a fellowship created for Brownsville scholars created to honor the legacy of Brownsville’s unofficial mayor, Greg ‘Jocko’ Jackson. I was deeply engaged in a discussion with a co-worker, Nupur, brainstorming about what type of programming we could come up with to activate public space and create visual change within the neighborhood. I thought back to a previous summer job designing affordable housing for a new town the Chife Foundation was building called Anam New City in Nigeria. Dr. Aloy Chife was, a product of this village, having his school expenses paid for by locals pooling their money. From extremely humble beginnings, he went on to get his Ph.D in Economics from the London School of Economics, became an Executive for Apple and Enron and returned to Nigeria to begin his own leading business software technology company. As a way to give back
to those that gave to him, he decided he wanted to build an eco-sustainable city for his people on some donated land. Needless-to-say his money is tall, but I digress. On one hot summer day, my then colleague had pulled out some silkscreen meshes she had made back in the States with the Anam project logo on them. She told us to grab any old garments and bring them down to the work area so that we could brand ourselves and give out t-shirts to the community to spread the word about the New City project. By far this was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Here I was in the middle of an African forest mosaic in an eight bedroom half-completed Italianate villa estate of a millionaire, surrounded by mud and howling monkeys, pouring ink onto a mesh and smearing it with a squeegee on some shirts in an attempt to market ourselves and our cause to locals who lived on dollars a day (I’m pretty sure one of the girls I met only owned a single tattered shirt).
Made in Brownsville invites speakers to share their expertise in the design field with the young aspiring entrepreneurs of Brownsville Anti-violence Project’s Young Adult Entrepreneurship Program. Recently, Verneda Adele White of HUMAN INTONATION held a discussion on social entrepreneurship in apparel design.
Fast-forward to 2013, back in the office with Nupur, I proposed we have residents silkscreen some t-shirts. How cool would that be, I resolved, if we could have shirts that said “Made in Brownsville” made by Brownsville residents on street corners; at community fairs; at block parties. Dope! I thought. I began sketching designs for the shirt immediately. I thought that if I had the right design that the product would sell itself. No sooner did I realize that this idea was much more than an image on a shirt; it had the potential to impact the lives of so many residents impacted by the negative associations attributed to the arbitrary boundary that we call Brownsville. If, in early 2013, you would have googled “made in brownsville” the first thing that would have popped up was “More arrests made in Brownsville.” What a narrative. I know that my neighborhood is more than crime statistics and lost hope but if left to the media, one would believe we were the dark place on the horizon that Mufasa told Simba he must never go. So out of this necessity to tell our own story was birthed Made in Brownsville, tasked particularly with the mission
of engaging youth with employment and training in harnessing the tools necessary to change narratives. We teach creative design skills to disconnected youth with court involvement. Because of the complex socioeconomic and racial inequalities that act as barriers to employment for our young people, as well as those impediments that exist particularly for those with criminal records, we aim to employ, educate and mentor participants, sharing with them the formal and informal skills of design service. The impact is a savvy youth resident network of educated and innovative technology, design, and community revitalization specialists that can help to transform the narrative of the community. In essence, we just want to make cool stuff that benefits the community with cool people. I don’t take this revelation of purpose for granted. If anything, I’d say I owe a great deal to the people like Dr. Chife and Greg Jackson who have shown that success isn’t measured in dollars and cents. As we like to say at MiB, “Brownsville is a place that measures all success in our skill in giving back to it.” Our hope is that Brownsville youth will know that everything the light touches is their kingdom, and that they have the tools to make the dark places come to light. /////
Councilwoman Darlene mealy By Amberlace Branch
Q: What are you most passionate about? I love being in a position to serve, which began when I was 15 years old at Christ Memorial Church, located on Winthrop St, here in Brooklyn. Today my sister serves as the Pastor, so it’s in our blood to help others. There is nothing that gives me greater joy. Q: Who would you attribute to having major influence that changed your life? Miss Mattie Glass! She was the Block Association President who set the standard for our community. Miss Mattie made it safe for our families to enjoy where we lived because she made it clear, “Not on this block! Take your drugs and violence somewhere else.” Q: What is your personal struggle? Because I love to serve others it’s really a struggle for me to take time for myself. I probably haven’t had a vacation in 4 or 5 years. But it’s because I want to be here in the community spending time with those who need me to represent them. Q: Growing up, what was your outlet?
I love, love, love to roller skate! I was always at Empire roller skating rink having a good time with my friends. It was sad to see when they closed it, so when I served on the board at Prospect Park and when the idea to create an ice skating rink came up I advocated that they convert it into a roller skating rink during the offseason. Q: What are your responsibilities as the Council Member of New York City? I represent East Flatbush, Crown Heights, Ocean Hill, Bedford Stuyvesant, East New York, and Bushwick. Within those communities I am responsible for 6 Community Boards, 6 precincts, 2 PSA’s and I also have a responsibilities to engage in the Community Education Councils as well. I serve on the finance and land use boards, as well as chair the civil rights and youth development Q: What has been the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? I made the conscience decision to stop a project by a builder because I demanded that they include affordable housing. It was such a challenge because the project would provide job opportunities but I was not willing 27
to play a role creating housing that my constituents could not afford. I have a responsibility to see that the residents I represent and the future generation are not driven out from their community. Q: What has been your biggest life lesson? When you are in a position of great influence, you must always be responsible for how your conduct yourself and with whom you surround yourself. People can try to take advantage of how much you are willing to give and put you in a position that is not in your best interest. Q: What is your advice to our young readers about navigating through life? 1. Always know your voice and dreams matters. I became the president of the block association because I was inspired by Miss Mattie. I have been advocating making our communities better, now I am an elected official who helps residents and builds better schools.
2. Always keep a smile on your face no matter what you are personally facing. 3. Always look presentable, you just never know who you are going to meet or the places you will end up in your journey. 4. Have faith because you need to draw on your beliefs to deal with those difficult moments in your life. 5. Be in control of the decisions you make and never let anyone see you sweat. Q: Name a song that would describe your life right now? Happy by Pharell. I have had to work hard to prove my dedication to my work and I know God protects me, so I am happy and ready to face whatever comes my way. /////
Never be limited by other peopleâ€™s limited imaginations. -Dr. Mae Jemison
MUSIC IS made in brownsville Royal Knights Marching Band of Brownsville at Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement Districtâ€™s Easter Parade.
Rediscover what is
Scholarich: Kamau Harper By Tamila Mulligan
I would like you all to meet Kamau Harper, the fly CEO of Scholarich. Harper, who hails from Brownsville, is very enthusiastic about his job. He becomes energetic and excited when others progress. Kamau Harper is one of billions who believe that the sky is not the limit.
Q: What inspired you to create this quote? “Our Dreams are Making Dreams Come True”? My excitement comes from seeing others progress. In all aspects of my life, my “management” role is only successful when others succeed. Q: What inspired Scholarich and why were you the one to make it happen? After receiving my master’s degree at 22, I was eager to place a stamp on the world that would effect change. That could live beyond me. I knew it had to be a socially cultural change that could affect a wide spread of people over a long period of time. The image of maintaining urban “coolness” while simultaneously thriving through academic excellence as well as giving back was an image I wanted to make popular. I felt like I was the one to make it happen because of the impact I saw myself having on my students as well as my peers. Friends of mine that were still on the block were astounded and intrigued by my success and my career at a young age. Similar to the students, they 34
were excited by my image and what I represented. They wanted to learn more and also take steps in a direction to succeed academically and/or through their own entrepreneurial ambitions. Q: What was life like growing up in Brownsville? Did those experiences make you the man you are today? I lived in Brownsville only until about 7 years old. I grew up in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. My father was a medical doctor and he was the first generation of this greatness that still embodied the urban culture. He is very Brooklyn and when he’s not in a lab coat at the hospital or medical center, he is in sweatpants and Jordans or Timbs and you would never know what his career was. He still was very thorough and was a real Brownsville man with a heart of a lion. And seeing how he operated was very influential to me. Friends that I had were not as fortunate and I was able to really gather from their experiences and surroundings some of the evils that are inevitable in our communities. Now that I live in Brownsville as an adult and teach
in ENY, my perspective on where the mediocre way of living originates, inspires me to push forward to maximize on this social change that Scholarich represents. Q: Was there ever a time where you wanted to give up? Of course, we all are human and have our moments. My life is no longer â€œregularâ€? and it will never be. Iâ€™ve dived into my ambitions head first, and sometimes I do wish that I could just live a regular life; work and go home. But being great is a lifestyle. Keyword, LIFE. Q: Scholarich is involved in basketball, music, etc. How are you able to make all those things happen? Who and what type of people are on your team? I know what is attractive to the average person. And one must be honest with themselves when they are attempting to make change. You must attract the masses, not with what is attractive to the complicated
intellectual, but what the average person is engaged by. Not only what they like, but these are things that I love. Therefore my passion goes full circle. I used to coach basketball heavy after college, from 8th grade adults, and I am a heavy songwriter and work with tons of artists on their projects and putting together shows. So I use those as fuel to attract people to the larger purpose, providing opportunities. Q: What are your future goals personally and with Scholarich? I want Scholarich to thrive as the liaison between the community and entertainment. We want Scholarich to be the Olivia Pope of Entertainment, in regards to philanthropy. There are too many goals to discuss, the skies not even the limit. Personally, I want to go get my Doctorate and be the cool, name brand professor. A cool Hill Harper, a better version of Bill Cosby, in the way their lives incorporate education, philanthropy and entertainment. /////
HOMEC By Randy C. Millard
The average person would think and whisper to his or herself “why would you come back to this place?” After getting left back in college, owing Uncle Sam at least over 30 stacks, spending money on books that now serve as night stands and still managing to receive a degree in a major when being nosey can get you 400,000 views on YouTube, people would still to this day utter to his or herself, “why would you come back ?” Can I get a “Congratulations” or a “Good job” salutation first?! How about a “Welcome Back Pep Rally”? You guys should pull out the red carpet and let the horns play for me! That’s a great idea right?! Now we all know that I know, that is not going to happen. At any other traditional institution, the students, the alumni,
staff, faculty and administration are so happy to see you come back. You talk about the everlasting memories you shared amongst each other. You converse about what you are currently doing with your life. Everyone is enjoying the festivities at hand. This year, Homecoming didn’t feel the same. Usually, the campus is vibrant and the people are lively and bleeding school spirit. The campus graced the presence of a place mourning the death of someone who really fought the improvement of mankind. I never felt so awkward. I never felt so uncomfortable. I called this place home. I was really excited to come back for this event. All I talked about at work was going back for Homecoming. Just for Homecoming. As I walked around the campus, I bumped into my old crew. We used to have so much fun together. We did some things that you wouldn’t even dare to speak of. I can go on all day just talking about chillin’ on campus with my guys, real talk. I was mad hype to see them but when it was time to greet each other, I wasn’t feeling the love at all. No words were even exchanged. Their handshakes weren’t matching their
COMING smiles. I mean, I played ball with these guys. We hollered at and flirted with the same type of females. We shared each other’s clothing. Like how could they do that to me, of all people though? We lived next door to each other. We called each other brothers. Your mother was my mother and vice versa. I didn’t get mad at all. I remained me: cool, calm and collective. My conscious was unaware of the actions from the current student body, faculty and administration at my alma mater. It wasn’t the same anymore. What changed? Why did this change have to be so drastic? My heart bleeds for my alma mater. I am one of those alums who cares a lot about their college. All I wanted to do was go into the “REAL WORLD” and show those douche bags my alma mater made me who I am today.
automatically knew I that I didn’t belong there. I acted as if I still lived in that dormitory. “Aye, watcha doin’ over here” one of the freshmen said to me. I responded with “I’m just chillin’ man. I went to this school back in the day. I’m here for Homecoming.” “You good man! Yo! You said you went here you right?” “Yeah man. When I was going here, it was all love. Everyone got along with each other. This institution was live too!” “Word?! Man nowadays, its wild different my man!” “Why is that though son?”
I love my college but everything is different now. I guess the change benefits them now more than me.
“Campus life isn’t for everyone. The institution itself is going downhill. Only 11.4% people graduate from this school my G. You’re one of the 11.4%. Congrats Gz”
While I was walking to my old dormitory, I just sat in the front of the building. I saw a couple of freshmen who
“Yeah no doubt but people don’t realize if you don’t have some type of schooling, you’re only going to make the “average” income! That’s only $24,968 a year. It’s a recession too. Times are hard! I’d rather hustle all day and night.” “Hustle my G?” I asked. “Yeah, I’m about to drop out! I am about to go back on the streets, chillin’ with my team and start gettin’ this paper! Campus Police is scared to walk around! Mad stupidness be going too. I have no time for stupid stuff either.” “My dude there are other ways of getting money. You know what’s funny? I’ve had some classes with kids who developed all types of hypotheses. I knew this one mastermind who would’ve overthrew a Democracy. I knew one girl who was nice with numbers. She took that expertise and copped herself a new home only for the summers!” “Word?!” “Yeah Gz! You can do it too! Holla at me though! Be easy! Be safe out here!” “Aiight Big Homey! Be safe too.” As I was walking away, I hoped I changed that young freshman’s life with my words and encouragement. He wanted to live fast, but die young. His dreams were almost deferred by fast cars, pretty women and wanting to be a “hoodstar.” The band changed their musical selections too. Every time the band plays , everyone runs for cover. The band though? Who would’ve thought that? I thought the band was supposed to only play music. My alma mater has changed for the worst. I can’t give up on it though. This is my home. Our proverb for this institution is “Never Ran, Never Will.” I finished up my courses. I graduated from here. The classes were hard at times but I did it. You want to see my degree, don’t you?
My Degree reads:
Brownsville University In recognition of the successful completion of the course study as prescribed by the Board of Trustees hereby confers upon Randy C. Millard the degree of Bachelor of Life in Street Smarts & Common Sense I am a recruiter for this institution. Classes are now in session! Financial Aid is available. /////
then and now By Dion Turner
It’s the summer of 1989, gold rope chains are swinging, Eric B For President is coming out the speakers of a champagne colored Maxima, water from the Johnny pump jumps on the neighborhood children, as the innocence of youth put dance routines together in front of 1765. Today, as I open my car door to walk the old neighborhood, Saratoga Ave, The Hill that Real, between Prospect and St. Marks, it no longer looks the same. There was once four buildings standing erect, filled with life, possibility and promise, but as I look out, down the corridor---two are gone, one is being beaten by the towering cranes standing on opposite sides. By the end of the week it will have destroyed. And then there will be one; 1786, the one looking over the rent building awaiting its fate and what I knew as home will be no more. But, thanks to the memories and Hip Hop the souls that smiled, laughed and cried together forever embrace.
Brownsville has transformed, moved through the times, the complexion of the people and the cultures overlap, trolley tracks have been replaced by bike lanes, commercial space and charter schools occuping the old theater, but what hasn’t changed is the ability of music to capture the soul of the neighborhood folk. From the Mash Out Posse’s Packin’ Blue Steel, General Steele to the Boot Camp Click’s OGC and Heltah Skeltah teaming up to produce the sounds of Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka all is good in the ‘hood. Apartment windows, newly acquired April or pharmaceutical color TV’s, Trigger the Gambler and his brother Smoove Da hustla spoke in a Broken Language that only the people understood, we watched Bobby Simmons introduce the neighborhood, Flava Video, phone calls from every apartment throughout the twenty-five made the neighborhood’s neighbor closer. From Ocean Hill with the call for Black teachers to La Costra Nostra, Jackie Gleason and international Larry King go anywhere on the globe and the place called Brownsville, in the Borough of Brooklyn, in the City of New York-in that order. Salute. /////
We are not our greatest mistake Brownsville & the Violin Case By Dion Turner
When the outside world speaks about Brownsville, you hear that the sun never comes out, that nature has been replaced by concrete and that brick buildings have outnumbered the timber that once grew tall. But everyone doesn’t feel that way. Ask John Forte, one of Brownsville’s native sons, and he uses words like “resilience.” The Phillips Exeter Academy graduate and Grammy nominated composer and music producer, thinks differently about Brownsville, the place he credits with making him the man he has become.
Scheduling a phone interview was difficult because time is an invaluable commodity for Forte. Since building Le Castle, a company he founded in 2011 to manage his creative projects, he has been methodical and strategic with whom he speaks to. Some can misinterpret his actions, but the articulated narrative explains the complexity of a simplistic man who desires to make art that transcends him. At eight years old, he walked around with a violin case, never realizing the neighborhood’s reputation. The eighties would define a generation and leave those that followed crippled, even if temporarily. Hip Hop was the culture, rap was the score, crack vials littered the playgrounds and violence became the backdrop to destroy families and a community. “We are not our greatest mistake. We are all infallible,” he iterates, in his raspy voice. It’s difficult to talk about community when looking at today’s Brownsville. This parcel of land has switched hands between nations some time ago; a history of last names ending in vowels brought over from Italy, yarmulkes from the Lower East Side, tenement buildings, clothes being dried outside on lines that span the length of buildings, neighbor-to-neighbor. Black faces, smiling faces, somersaults on mattresses. Children were children back then. Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, and Nobel Drew Ali; great men whose names grace the dwellings of the many who walk the blocks of Dumont, Blake, New Lots, Mother Gaston and Rockaway. Every day people are natives surrounded by greatness, but they suffer because of a lack of knowledge “I was a latch-key kid. I never felt alone” Forte says when thinking back to his mother being the first one out of the house and the last one to return. The village helped raise him and his sister; it kept him on point. There is a difference in living and surviving–a chalkboard, some papers, pens or pencils can capture the lessons learned or experienced. I inquired about lessons learned and his response spoke to intuition, being street wise and being “on-point.” This attitude has created endless possibilities. 44
Forte was gifted with greatness. “Music has always been a part of my life,” he says in a reflective tone. He speaks of a mother who recognized his talents and nurtured his extracurricular activities. Some people leave, never to return. Like the saying “Reason, season, life time,” the brilliance and resilience of Brownsville opened his eyes to travel, tours, and a second chance. Forte was able to dream beyond. He knows that others can too; “Keep your head up; keep your chin off your chest; stand circumspect and look beyond the limitations.” /////
only surround yourself with people who will lift you higher. -Oprah Winfrey
WHY Not Mott By Nadia Lopez
According to the New York Times, 40% of Brownsville residents are living below the poverty line–and based on the 3rd – 8th grade New York State English Language Arts results for 2013, only 12% of students who reside here are able to read and write at grade level. These statistics show that the future of Brownsville’s children is grim and the potential for change or transformation appears hopeless. With the deck stacked against them, the idea of opening a new school in this community seemed absurd and the offer for me to be its founding principal even more ridiculous. But, I knew that the only answer was God had a plan. He prepared me through my experiences and challenges in becoming a leader in a place long forgotten. When I wrote the proposal for a middle school, I didn’t do it for one specific neighborhood. I did it to empower, inspire, and educate children–no matter where they lived. I wanted to create a space that would become an oasis that allowed me to focus on the whole child and not just their academic lives. Because it is important for students to be reminded that they are life-long learners and descendants of greatness, we call them scholars. We designed custom black and purple uniforms for our students to wear daily to symbolize their royal heritage.
speaks to being “Connected to Succeed” in order to create the change we need to see. Why Not Mott? Has been the question that we posed as a school community, because at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, our scholars are Brownsville Brilliance: intelligent, beautiful, and priceless. This school has defied many odds over the past four years. We have lost over four hundred thousand dollars in funding. We had a high turnover in staffing. We’ve been identified as a Focus school by the state, which means we were not meeting the standards of proficiency. However, to date, we have become an A-rated school;
I wanted to create a space that would become an oasis that allowed me to focus on the whole child and not just their academic lives.
we’ve increased our student enrollment, and have built programs that include art, video production, social entrepreneurship, journalism, dance, martial arts, comic art, STEP, theatre, basketball, along with our Saturday & Summer Academic Enrichment program. Our gender specific programs such as She is Me, Icons, Be Cool. Be Kind., and the I Matter Initiative, have become annual events within the community that service hundreds of people each year.
Through our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) focus, my team encourages these youth to have the audacity to dream beyond their situations and circumstances, because they come from a lineage of scientists, mathematicians, human rights activists, and trendsetters. I have worked hard to build a culture of high expectations and have created a motto that
Away from the threat of violence and housing projects that segregate children, we are consistent in our practice and expectations, which provides our scholars with a school that leaves its doors open beyond 7pm each day, so that they have a safe place to stay. I am proud of our work and the strides we continue to make. Change is not an event it is a process, which we are patiently working on every single day. /////
By Kadijah Burns
Be Cool Be Kind! What is that about? Well, Be Cool Be Kind is a program that aims to generate kindness between scholars. The purpose of the program is to help get rid of aggressive bullying in middle school and high school. The program was also created to celebrate individuality, encourage diversity and to promote inclusion and build tolerance. Last year I attended several Be Cool, Be Kind events. All the workers were organized, they gave us very helpful tips and they tried to get everyone to understand the importance of being kind to others. One statement that stuck out to me was that when you want to do something but everyone else says that itâ€™s impossible; just know what the word impossible also stands for Iâ€™m Possible (ImPossible). In honor of the Be Cool Be Kind program, I would like to thank my Principal, Ms. Nadia Lopez for creating such an amazing program for us young women. I would also like to thank Image Activist, Michaela Angela Davis for being a part of Be Cool Be Kind. /////
my life, my journey By Dion Turner
I needed to find that someone who was a true representation of Brownsville, but it couldn’t just be any first name, surname or stage name. This individual had to encapsulate the narrative of a people and a place often misunderstood; people grasping for hope and seeking transformation. My phone call began with questions that conjured up reflective thoughts about the forgotten street of Stone Avenue, now Mother Gaston, real name A. Rosetta Gaston. Gaston, a black historian and community advocate who taught black history to the children and young adults in Brownsville, can be considered a disciple of Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History (then Week, now Month). Woodson, who started the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, encouraged Gaston to start a chapter in Brownsville. Everything about Brownsville speaks of greatness.
nature of their children’s children playing in innocence. They don’t remember the lessons of navigation and evasion learned by playing a game called Coco Levio, where one player stands alone, while others attempt to make it to the other side without getting caught or they’d be forced to join forces in capturing the that attempt to get away. Then there was Follow the Leader, the name says it all; a player did something and everyone else followed, if unsuccessful those who met that fate were done, those who succeeded moved on until the last man. This game taught one to aspire to inspire.
From project windows, Darrell Yates, who would later become General Steele to adoring fans, imagined a world larger than the four buildings that make up the Seth Low Houses. From the fourteenth floor, he considered the view magical and could have never fathomed a day when someone typed “Brownsville” into a search engine, there would be seven million results –and everything about the place he called home was viewed negatively. He grew up in the 1980s, where he side-stepped crack vials on playgrounds and elevators, addicts sold anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor and any attainable dream was literally smoked away, leaving generations that followed paralyzed.
Included in his journey are words like relentless, luck, blessed and friendship; adjectives that provide a backdrop into a fortified world built by not only the hands of destruction, but also the hands of a young boy who dreamt of touching his father’s turntables and listened to the poetic prose of his mother. Hip Hop culture changed it all. Within this culture, General Steele was able to construct a movement that took him around the world. “Seek, look and find,” he says when asked about how to go beyond Rockaway, Pitkin, Belmont, Sutter, Dumont, Powell, and the many streets and avenues in between the margins. “I was allowed to go outside and breathe the oxygen.” Many children today stand in by familiarity, text to talk and use joysticks for recreation.
His fondness of Brownsville could have easily faded, but it hasn’t. Instead it left room and space to pause and think about a generation denied access to the remembrance of good times. Because, even though one knew they were poor, the richness of community and togetherness showed an unbreakable people. There was a momentary silence on the phone. I remembered reading articles about Brownsville and writing down questions, but these publish reports had it all wrong –and provided no solutions. They can’t prescribe or give definitive solutions because they can’t recall the grandmothers who sat outside and watched the playful
Remember those Saturdays where breakfast raced the morning’s sun to see who’d opened your eyes, or listening to the old songs and catching your parents dancing as you hid behind a wall to capture your first lessons on love? This was General Steele’s Brownsville.
If he didn’t go outside he wouldn’t have met his comrades Tekomin “Tek” Williams, Sean “Ruck” Price, who he’s known since age eight, Jahmal “Rock” Bush, or Kenyatta “Buckshot” Blake, who he credits for helping start his musical career. While in night school at George Westinghouse Vocational High School, Darrell met Buckshot’s sister Tracy. Tracy, who told stories of her brother being a dancer, noticed Darrell during a performance he did. A Wednesday night show at the Apollo, some rehearsals, a chance meeting in the back of a high school classroom and his first rhyme partner just giving up, and this
Once you know you don’t know, you become who youaresupposed to be. -GENERAL STEELE story reads differently. Buckshot stopped dancing and picked up the microphone. His song “Who Got Da Props?” is playing on the radio, shows are in abundance and Tek is giving out eight-by-tens, “I want in,” when he sees the change. Remembering that Darrell can rhyme, Buckshot tells a Nervous Record intern Dru-Ha about him and the rest, as the story goes, is history. First flight to California, thoughts of the movie, Colors, “Whenever I saw someone wearing red or blue, I thought Blood or Crip. Once you know you don’t know, you become who you are supposed to be.” “Amsterdam is my favorite destination,” he says with excitement when asked about his favorite place on the globe to visit; hence, the name Coco Brovas. I guess you can call it paying homage to elevation. General Steele, the nephew of Brownsville’s unofficial Mayor, Greg “Jocko” Jackson, has made a name for himself, established his own movement and formed a crew, the Boot Camp Click, beyond compare. A student of the culture, a man of great integrity and humility, this soldier of soldiers desires to be “a philanthropist, minus the big dollars,” with the sole purpose of mobilizing the people through inspirational vibes. “Early to rise, so wake way before daybreak / Meditating on the steps I take/ I realize there’s a lot at stake / So I enterprise while trying to / stack papes / But I recognize that it ain’t easy / So I organize with my P.N.C.” Love, Light, Energy –Salute. /////
Moving Forward By Randy Millard
As a youth growing up in a low-income community such as Brownsville, we are subjected to the street life and often succumbed to failure in our low performing, under resourced schools. While most young people may idolize the individual who clocks in and clocks out on the Avenue, 56
Mural at the corner of Pitkin Avenue and Mother Gaston Blvd honoring the legacy of past great figures in Brownsville and celebrating the future progress to come. Groundswell and the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District
the youth in Brownsville may not have a lot of options in terms of job opportunities and/or pursing other educational endeavors. Christopher Wallace said it best, “The streets is a short stop, either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” Can someone
please help me understand this? So is the only way to get out of the hood hustling on Rockaway Ave or getting 30 points in the hood tournaments hoping for a Junior College Basketball Scholarship, since my SAT score sucks? With all of the options being limited or
scarce, what am I to do? 1555 Linden Boulevard changed my life and the perspective of what Biggie was referring to. The Brownsville Recreation Center has changed many lives. The numerous activities and programs held at the BRC kept the residents of Brownsville at ease. This place served as a “second home” for the underprivileged misfits in the community and has fed the entire community plus surrounding populations during the famous Brownsville Oldtimers Week. While many wondered who put on for Brownsville like this, everyone in Brownsville knew who was “The Man.” He had the aura of a non-fictional superhero. His children deemed him as their “Superman.” His birth name was Gregory Jackson, Sr. Brownsville knew him as “Jock” or “Jocko.” The life lessons and advice he gave me will remain with me forever because I considered myself a “Jocko Kid.” Interacting and conversing with him about making Brownsville a better place was amazing. The knowledge Jocko bestowed on me made me understand you can impact a person’s life with a simple “Hello, how is your day going?” Communication is key. I remember coming back home from obtaining my Bachelors Degree at Norfolk State University. Instead of basking and boasting about my successes, I encouraged and enlightened the youth about the joys and struggles of attending a four-year institution. Some listened. Some curved me. The ones who listened are now attending four-year institutions
making strides towards greatness. I used one of “Jocko’s principles to get through to them: Give back to your community. Fast forward. I was a Family Counselor at the SCO Family Dynamics program. May 1st, 2012 was a day, I will never forget. Jock and I had a brief conversation at the Brownsville Partnership. He said he wasn’t feeling well. I replied to his statement by saying “you need to relax sometimes.” Jock looked at me and laughed. I laughed right along with him because I knew he could not slow down from doing something he was so passionate about. Jock was passionate about improving a community. The last sentence he uttered to me was “Randy, bring my bike to the BRC.” I laughed hysterically at him. I said to him, “Jock, you’re not riding no bike nowhere in Brownsville!” Jock looked at me, laughed and said, “Bring my bike man!” One day while at work I received a phone call. The person over the phone said “Mr. Jackson is gone.” I cried for almost an hour in my cubicle. The neighborhood was silent. The tears streamed down my face. Even though Jock wasn’t around anymore, I made sure I put his bike in his office at the Brownsville Recreation Center. One of the skills Jock taught me was to listen (laughs). Thank you for everything Jocko. From One of Your Many Sons, Randy /////
Andrea McCullough www.ohbcyp.org Brittani Sensabaugh www.brittsense.com Erica Mateo www.brownsvillejustice.org General Steele www.bucktownusa.com John Forte www.lecastle.com Kamau Harper www.scholarich.com Mott Hall Bridges Academy www.mhbabrooklyn.com Quardean Lewis-Allen www.madeinbrownsville.org Randy C. Millard www.thebrownsvillejournal.wordpress.com Richard Brathwaite www.flickr.com/photos/richbratdesigns/