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Flourishing in An Urban Ecosystem: A Bushwick Origin Story

by Bianca Perez

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Bushwick has been my home for as long as I’ve had a home. I’ve lived on the same street in the same building for twenty years and nine months. I’ve never had it any other way and I honestly don’t think I would want to. I grew up on Bleecker Street, a street I always found oddly suburban and quaint nestled within the surrounding bustle of urbanity. The same street I was brought home to from the hospital when I was born is the same one I learned to ride my first bike on, complete with The Little Mermaid decorations and sparkling tassels on either handle. It’s the same street I scraped my knee on countless times falling off of said bike, and the same one where those cuts and bruises slowly fleshed over and healed.

You can say I’ve had an almost epic history not only with this street, but with this neighborhood: my history with this area begins before my birth. The first of my family to find a home in Bushwick were my father’s parents. They emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. in the early 1960’s and brought along my five month-old father and other extended family. My dad spent most of his younger years on that same street in Bushwick just a couple houses down from mine until he and my grandparents moved back to D.R. when he was about fourteen years old. It wasn’t until he met my mother and she decided to move to America that he returned with her in 1988. They lived on Grove Street for a short time before they moved to, you guessed it, Bleecker Street. They lived there together for some years in unholy matrimony until I was born in 1993. About four years after that my parents separated and I was officially a child of single, working class-parent household. Luckily, my mother is one of the hardest working women I have ever known, so it wasn’t to my complete detriment.

To be raised in Bushwick, regardless of its turbulent history, was actually quite wholesome in my experience. However, you might attribute that to my “latchkey kid” kind of upbringing, which recently led me to realize that there are still some streets in my own neighborhood I have yet to traverse. For those who don’t know, “latchkey kids” are children (usually from lower income, single-parent families) that often spend time unsupervised at home after school while their parent(s) are away at their jobs. They’re those weird kids in your class who have their own house keys, walk themselves home instead of getting picked up in the minivan, and spend way too much time at the public library after school. This kind of parenting may seem potentially damaging to some and I would not refute that, yet I’m thankful to my mother all the same for protecting me from the constant threat of corrupting forces that stood just outside my door. I may not be the best person to ask about the seedy underbelly of my neighborhood, because my mother tried and succeeded at keeping me far removed from that environment. In spite of the looming danger, I was able to have an almost traditional childhood, complete with tricycles, dirt-digging, hide-and-seek, and treasure hunting. It may have been an urban jungle, but not even unsafe, concrete-laden streets could quell a child’s imagination. I distinctly recall drawing treasure maps, hiding trinkets under cars and behind mailboxes, and burying them in a friend’s tiny backyard only to rediscover what we ourselves had hidden. I remember being (quite roughly) rolled around in one of those huge blue bins which often carry liquid chemical. It was dirty, slightly dangerous, tons of fun, and did I mention dirty? As a child, I remember having that feeling of this being my little slice of the world, like that little corner in your school or home that you feel safest in. Bushwick felt like our little secret and only we who lived here would know of it.

Growing up a Bushwickian kid, the existence of gentrification had always been evident, even if as a vague nameless concept. Most of us were too busy with school or work to notice the most subtle of changes. But even teenagers, armored with apathy, will occasionally stand at ease to contemplate the bigger picture of their circumstances. Although children can suppress it, as an adolescent I found myself and my peers feeling a storm of indignation brewing. You could call it a case of “inner city kid syndrome”. We began to realize how short our end of the stick was and we didn’t know how to react. Meanwhile, there was the constant insidious chatter at our backs from the media, our families, the education system, all daring us to fail, to be peer-pressured into criminality, to live up to every single stereotype an outsider may have. Our juvenile self esteem screamed in protest. I remember it being a normality to have teachers and parents encourage us to avoid going to high schools in our own neighborhood. The day acceptance letters arrived during those last days of eighth grade, I saw some students cry because they weren’t accepted to any Manhattan schools. In some ways it felt like a death sentence. It wasn’t until the age of about sixteen or seventeen that I began noticing this myself, and as per usual, both lack of interest and rumbling resentment followed. I found myself in a state of resignation, with no outlet for my resentment. I was unsatisfied with my short stick, feeling almost as if it were my birthright, and sick of seeing other kids with longer ones. I began to look for outlets for community efforts which took me from attending El Puente Bushwick Center, to interning at The Living Gallery, to joining several community groups, and finally here: to The Bushwick Bridge.

I had never been as significantly concerned with gentrification as I am now. Then again, I had never been as forcefully involved as I am now. It wasn’t long ago that I became a sort of poster child of the destruction that gentrification leaves in the wake of all its renewal. My landlord wanted us out because he saw all the money he could be making from newcomers who would be able to pay more. There was a moment, a couple months back, when I believed homelessness would soon become a reality in my life. Just three days before the marshal was scheduled to come and curb all of our possessions, thanks to a Bushwick Bridge team member, we were was able to find legal aid which has helped us build a strong case against our abusive landlord. The most important thing I’ve learned in going to housing court is that complacency equals self victimization. I’m sure people make all the exceptions and unjust settlements possible to avoid involvement of the law, even when it is to their detriment. This crash course in gentrification has been a huge learning experience for me, not just about how crucial community is, but how important it is to know your rights. I also learned that helping others is a reciprocal form of self preservation. Perpetuating the flourishment of your fellow community members’ lives ensures your own continued existence wherever you may live. This may sound obvious when explicitly stated, but it was a revelation for me this year. Our metropolis mentality where anonymity reigns conditions us to always keeps our heads down and not get involved: ”You gotta look out for number one”. However safe this mentality may help us feel in the meantime, there is no denying the bigger picture. We do not live in a concrete jungle, but an urban ecosystem.

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Jazo Brooklyn: Spreading Love, It’s the Brooklyn Way

by Yazmin Colon

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Projects in Brownsville

Who am I? My names is Yazmin Colon, I’m 34 years old born in Puerto Rico, but living in Brooklyn since I was one year old. Brooklyn is my borough, and there’s really no place like home. My full time occupation is a mom, seriously no better job in the world than that. I have an amazing fourteen-year old son whom I love to the death of me. He’s a huge inspiration to my success, and after that I’m a second mom to many kids in my community, in which I take a lot of pride. I opened a boutique two years ago and shortly after that I began running a youth group.

WHY? As everyone knows there has been a huge change within our community and many urban communities around the world better known as gentrification. To be honest I didn’t even know the true meaning of the word.  One day I became curious and googled “ a lot of white people moving into my neighborhood”. GENTRIFICATION was what popped up, loud and clear. I began to read, and realized there was something huge happening in Bushwick. I always embraced the change, it’s beautiful and diverse, but I slowly started feeling smothered by how fast things were changing. One of my biggest concerns was noticing how there was nothing catering to the youth. The kids were always around me. They began coming around more and more and also bringing their friends. They started a movement and chose me to be their leader, so from then on I began this fight to make them the biggest part of the community. ELM (Educated Little Monsters) youth group represents community.

Where I’m From:  As I stated earlier I was born in Puerto Rico so, Si, yo soy Boricua <3.  I was raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, which is over by East New York, my concrete jungle, literally. I was surrounded by seven housing projects that sheltered a huge number of apartments. That was normal to me and was my life. I loved it, and I have so many amazing memories from my youth. We had a Puerto Rican mom who didn’t allow us to speak English in the house. She said “you guys are in a country where everything is English. I refuse for you to loose your Spanish tongue. That is your culture forever, it belongs to you.” I thought it was stupid, back then being a normal Brooklyn 12 or 13 year old.

See, no matter how bad it was to most, where I grew up there was always, I mean always, a sense of community. And I have never once experienced that feeling outside of an urban place. From the bodegas and the corner stores, to all the grandmas and grand pops who looked after you like you were their own, to the summer block parties, sprinklers in the middle of the block, the fire hydrants, sitting on the stoop, loud music coming from the cars or the guy with the official boom box passing by. There were house parties and get togethers. Abandoned buildings were our clubhouses, empty lots were our parks, graffiti on the trains, RIP murals, the sneakers on the phone lines, the air brushed shirts, all that was art to us. And I’m very sure that everyone in Brooklyn can relate to these memories even down to Bushwick. This is where my son is being raised, so as his mother I will continue to play my part in keeping community alive. My son has been here since he was six and is now fourteen. People need to know that Bushwick is more than just cafes, bars, and art galleries, and although those things are amazing that is not all that represents this very well and alive community. The Bushwick Bridge will give you a whole sense of what we do as a community, bridging many gaps. Keeping you updated with amazing stories, pictures, events and so much more. There are so many amazing things being done out of this community and we just want to share their awesomeness with the world. I hope you enjoy Bushwick through our lens ❤

Bushwick Native: My Story

by Kassandra Steward

As a child I always felt I had a complex. Growing up as a mixed child (African American and Puerto Rican) I was often asked which side I believed I belong to more. I constantly thought it was an ignorant question, but it has followed me and stuck with me my whole life. As I grew I learned that I didn’t have to choose a side. I could be content and proud with the fact that I am a dark skinned Latina and African American woman, which means I have to work three times as hard to get what I want in life. Women, Blacks, and Latinos do not have the same privileges or opportunities as white males. Therefore anything I do will be under a microscope, waiting for me to fail.  I am a Bushwick native and these pavements have molded me. Bushwick for me growing up was a family community and although it had its fair share of crime (what place doesn’t?) it kept me solid as a kid to know I would have people to look out for me. For the most part, I think a lot of my friends and I would say we had a great childhood in Bushwick. I graduated from Bushwick High School for Social Justice so I guess that’s where I learned to be passionate about anything I believe in and know my rights as an individual.

Broadcast journalism is something that I wanted to pursue for the longest. I have always been a talkative person especially when it came to topics I strongly believe in. My love for music, arts, and fashion made me feel complete growing up in Bushwick.  That has always been something that kept me inspired: how a community of struggling middle and lower class citizens can all come together with music and food for a block barbeque and everything could be alright. Great music and old family members dancing to salsa, the swaying hips of Spanish culture. Neo-Soul, Hip Hop, Blues, Rock, Jazz, bachata, salsa, and merengue all have had an impact on my life. From the thug intellectual voices of Wu- Tang to the smooth melodies of Maxwell. The constant weekend nights of poetry, bands playing and art shows at 3rd Eye Sol all gave me a clearer lens to the unlimited possibilities of my community.  I’ve been here for all twenty years of my life. I’ve seen all the culture shocks, but this by far is one for the books. I have seen Bushwick at its worst and at its best. From drug dealers on the corner to children playing hop scotch and baseball. But the fact that I might not be able to live here anymore is frightening. Recently, my landlord was offered three million dollars for our building. It’s pretty obvious that once we move we will have no choice but to move to a neighborhood that won’t be as safe. It’s known that natives get moved to worse neighborhoods so we stay oppressed. Slumlords raise rent by thirty percent in one year so people are forced to move out. Gentrification was just a word to me when I was in high school, but now I live in it. It surrounds me everywhere I walk in Bushwick. The only thing I think people of this neighborhood can benefit from it is the fact that Bushwick has become more diverse and maybe this is an opportunity to get to know others cultures and respect them. Although that is the bright side, how can that happen when most of the new comers look down upon us? They ignore us as if we are in their space. I laugh because they moved here for the same reasons that we’ve been living here: cheaper rent. The ignorance has been quite obvious to plenty of my friends and I when we don’t feel comfortable enough to walk into a local coffee shop. We get looks that make us feel out of place. I’m watching my community being torn from the roots to start new ones. It’s upsetting that now Bushwick is looked as an art center because of gentrifiers, when it has always been a place of great art. Street art or otherwise, it has always been found in Bushwick. Young adults that grew up in this community that are trying to get into the arts, fashion, and music world are constantly being overlooked because we are from here. We have to strive more because we are the “minority”.

So my purpose for joining this newspaper is to educate the people of this neighborhood on unjust situations. Things like knowing your rights and how to being a better neighbor. To give the young adults that grew up in Bushwick the opportunity to be heard through their music, arts, and fashion. Our power to continue when people expect us to fail because of our stomping grounds gives me inspiration. To be young and see success so close, but it’s out of reach because people shut you out, this is for you. Our generation isn’t lost, we are just finding our way. I want the voices of these aspiring Bushwick natives to be heard because it seems as if our voices have been fading. So through this publication we will show you the REAL BUSHWICK.

Dear Bushwick, I Need You Like I Need a Kick in the Head

By Camilla Zhang

Oftentimes you need a small, metaphysical kick in the head to fully comprehend that your every action and inaction has consequence. In theory, this is a no-brainer; so obvious it blends into the background of your routine, hum-drum life. In reality, that which divides understanding and living a statement is paperthin. The only force required to break this barrier is a small action. This can range from an email to a smile; from saying hello to your neighbor to reading a book that was recommended by a friend.

My motivation derived from the latter. I have the good fortune of being friends with Alice Meichi Li, an illustrator from Detroit. She told me about a legendary activist by the name of Grace Lee Boggs. Not only was she a graduate of my alma mater, Grace was also Asian American, like Alice and me. She’s been a part of the Civil Rights Movement since its incarnation and continues to be active in Detroit at the ripe age of ninety-eight. I developed a healthy obsession with Ms. Boggs, picking up her book, “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century.

My life had been changed forever by this simple phrase: “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” Ms. Boggs talked about change, not through a grandiose, mass movement lens, but through a local, interpersonal one. She encouraged people to bridge gaps, whether they be generational, cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic. Prior to reading this book, my ignorant self believed that to be an activist meant that you had to get a job at a non-profit or non-government organization. I wasn’t aware that I could have my day job, work on my novel, and be an activist.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ms. Boggs had talked about the “beloved community,” but I’d never felt like I belonged to one. Born in Manhattan, raised in Jamaica, Queens, an alumna of the Bronx High School of Science, and a five resident of Brooklyn, my identity had never been localized to any one particular neighborhood. Yet I chose to live in Bed-Stuy, Bushwick’s neighbor, because I wanted to be close to the burgeoning artistic community. However, I could not deny the fact that I was part of the gentrification that was stratifying the diversity of Brooklyn.

“Diversity”. I find that the implications of this word conflict with it’s actual meaning. When I tell non-New Yorkers about the racism that exists in this city, they are often shocked. “But New York is so diverse,” they’d say. Being an American woman of Chinese descent, I’ve overcome batterings of racism, sexism, and combinations of the two on my own turf. Meanwhile, I am acutely aware of the “Model Minority” myth that is used to cause a rift between the Asian American community and other communities of color. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that many of my neighbors see me as a gentrifier. How could they not? I am a light skinned, white-collar woman in my late twenties.

The longer I lived in Bed-Stuy, the more aware I became of my role in gentrification. Alienated, I felt powerless in my ability to affect positive change. The writings of Grace Lee Boggs confirmed what I could already see with my own eyes: that big government was unreliable. If I could not rely on the government to solve problems, how could I, a single person, possibly be instrumental in making change? The answer, as I would later discover, was that change is like a cloud. Made up of many, it’s origin can’t be traced to a solitary person.

Making the commitment to do good is the biggest hurdle, but it’s easier than you think. This New Year’s Eve, I was lucky to bump into Kunal Gupta–a dear friend, who I had lost touch with–at Silent Barn (a Bushwick art’s collective). I told him about Ms. Boggs’ inspirational book and my desire to do more community oriented activities. His eyes lit up like a furnace. He said that Silent Barn had a community outreach group to which I’d be a great contributor.

A few emails later, I joined Silent Barn to brainstorm collaborative art programs with the local Diana Jones Senior Center. It certainly helped my motivation to have other friends who were activists with day jobs. Enter Leslie Fine. Through a simple facebook message, she forwarded me a link about Bushwick Bridge (BWB). I few days later, I heard about BWB’s first meeting via a listserv Kunal had added me to. I had two sources telling me about this amazing publication that stood for what I believed in. It seemed like fate.

I walked into Express Yourself Barista Bar, where BWB held their meetings, like a girl on a blind date. I had heard of Jaz Colon, one of the co-founders of BWB, through Kunal, but had never seen a picture of her. How would I know who to look for? Would I be welcomed? Would they turn me away, saying they had enough people in their group? True to their mission, though, Jaz and Sarah Quinter, another co-founder, accepted me with willing hearts and open arms. The other members were as new to this as I was and it felt good to build something together. That’s an understatement. It felt incredible!

We all had something to bring to the table; our varied skills, our experiences, they all counted for something. They were valuable in the most humanistic sense. There is no equivalent to the symbiotic satisfaction you get when connecting to people of different backgrounds and personalities. Through empathy, I hope Bushwick Bridge touches people in a way that shows them their own value and their own voice.

Nothing sparks revolution like empowerment and agency. Once people realize that they not only have a voice that deserves to be heard, but also have an outlet for that voice, real magic happens. I see it on the faces of the hip-hop youth group, ELM (Educated Little Monsters), which is organized by Jaz. Their poetic lyrics tell the true stories of Bushwick. I felt the same magic when I introduced Silent Barn to the Diana Jones Senior Center. While coordinating a live-plaster casting with artist, John Ahearn, I interacted directly with the seniors. As I expressed Silent Barn’s desire to be of service to the community, I could see that they wanted to reach out as much as we did. It’s this personal spark, this incredibly beautiful connection, that takes “change” from an idea to an experience.

Even though I’m from Jamaica, Queens, I’m still a transplant to my neighbors and that’s OK. I can see their guarded curiosity and I hope they can see my openness to connect. This is not about being a savior (a familiar trope that is all too colonial for my taste). This is about starting a conversation. Opening the lines of communication, I ask Bushwick to teach us how to be family. Let’s talk. Let’s get all the ugly stuff out in the open so that together, we can create a community that serves everyone. Our seniors give us a sense of history and a wealth of knowledge. Our youth broaden the scope of the community’s potential.

This year, I learned the obvious: that there is evolution in the word, “revolution,” and like evolution, revolution is a slow process. It isn’t about overthrowing the government. It’s about seeing the humanity in others and most importantly, in yourself. It is a thing that can only be felt first hand, but that’s the beauty of it, that you get to feel change in real time. It’s not through the internet, or a book. It’s through people.

Grace Lee Boggs, herself, said, “…we must have the courage to challenge ourselves to engage in activities that build a new and better world by improving the physical, psychological, political, and spiritual health of ourselves, our families, our communities, our cities, our world, and our planet.” But don’t let that intimidate you, because what she really meant was that the culmination of small changes often lead to bigger effects. Join us, say hello, or just smile at your neighbor. Who knows, it could be the kick in the head we’re all waiting for.

Before the Ground Crumbles: Building Bridges in a Changing Landscape

By Sarah Quinter 

“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” — bell hooks

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When I think about the kind of community I want to live in, bits of my childhood sometimes come to mind. I grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens in the late 80s and the 90s. It was, and still is, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. My brother and I were some of the few American-born white kids around. Being kids wasn’t perfect, and neither was our neighborhood, but I remember fleeting moments that felt really right to me. All of us mixing together, eating mango kulfi, learning Islamic prayers and Spanish slang, inventing games on the sidewalks and being mesmerized by cheap plastic junk from the 99-cent store, we had a language of our own. Accents and grammatical anomalies merging, we found ourselves speaking in a constantly unspooling, spontaneous cultural collage. I think we had much less fixed ideas about what “normal” meant than kids in other places may have had. We couldn’t assume that others saw things in the same way we did. And we got to experience the layered beauty of different cultures mixing in the streets. For me, this has always been the essence of city life.

When I moved to Bushwick five years ago, the packed crowds on Knickerbocker doing weekend shopping, the cumbias blasting from cars and the women selling frescas against the backdrop of subway tracks and swooping pigeons all reminded me of my old neighborhood. There weren’t many other white people around at the time. We avoided looking at each other when we passed on the street. If we made eye contact, we’d have to acknowledge that we were both complicit in the changes happening in the neighborhood. It was awkward, like two thieves bumping into each other while robbing the same house.

Within a few years, I started seeing U-haul trucks on my block on the first of every month. More and more renovated and straight-up brand new, fancy buildings. The rent on our raggedy apartment kept rising, and we knew nothing would stop our landlord from doubling it and replacing us with people who would pay the price. It was only a matter of time. And I knew there was so much more going on, visible only peripherally from my view: people getting forced out, harassed by landlords and cops, working to the bone just to cover the basic costs of living. I wanted to connect but wasn’t sure how.

Late last fall I got involved with a community group working against a big new luxury development in the neighborhood. Through that I met Jaz, a local organizer, mother, and small business owner. I immediately liked her for being an extremely sweet, driven, and down to earth person. We talked and discovered that we had both been wanting to start a community-oriented Bushwick paper. After a couple months, we were ready to hold our first public meeting.

We had already talked about what would make the Bushwick Bridge different from a typical neighborhood publication. The goal was to connect people who otherwise wouldn’t be talking to each other, and to find and strengthen our common aspirations for the neighborhood. We would not only cover those whose stories were overlooked, but invite them to be a part of shaping the project. As our group formed, it became clear that other things set us apart as well.

Within a short amount of time, our relationships have led us to support one another through eviction threats, public assistance drama, chronic depression, money stress, and much more. Everyone seems to innately understand that we need to support each other as collaborators as well as people in order to make this work happen. In order for this project to challenge the way money, race, and gender control who has a voice in our neighborhood, we need to reinforce each other across our differences. A bridge needs to be balanced to be strong, and we’re not starting on even ground. So we share the resources we have access to, making sure everyone is brought along and raised up. And because the voices of those like us have been marginalized and mis-represented in mainstream media, it’s clear to us that all stories are slanted anyway. So we start from the personal, building our pieces around our strengths, concerns, and perspectives. We know that current events don’t just involve rich people and politicians. What happens in our lives and those of the people we know IS news. We from the Bushwick Bridge write, edit, and make decisions together, and new people are always welcome to contribute.

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Time will tell, but I feel the process of us working together to create this publication is teaching us important lessons about how all of us in Bushwick can work across difference to make our neighborhood more vibrant, just, and beautiful. It seems that being a part of the Bushwick Bridge is already transforming the perspectives of everyone involved, and that this transformation will spread outward towards everyone we interact with.

Our neighborhood is in a unique position right now. Its current state of flux is what led us all to meet and start the Bushwick Bridge in the first place. However, the forces of gentrification also give us a sense of urgency. A month into starting the publication, I was informed by my landlord that he expected us to start paying a much higher rent for the coming year, and would not give us a lease extending beyond the next twelve months. So I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to stay in this place where I have lived and created for five years, and in the meantime, I am under more pressure to run the rat race than ever before.  I know I’m one of thousands of people in the neighborhood feeling the force of displacement at my back. I feel that we are racing to build bridges even as the ground crumbles beneath our feet. I hear the whine of chainsaws down the street and see houses torn down like old trees. I feel us struggling to put roots down in shallow, money-driven soil, only to poke through and flail helplessly in the air. Connection for us is a matter of survival.

Gentrification is affecting people from many walks of life, and I feel it can be best addressed by a wide range of people who bring different things to the table, yet share common goals. In connecting with each other, we are taking the first step towards creating the kind of neighborhood we want to live in, one where everyone can belong and still be themselves, where everyone’s point of view matters, where no one gets pushed out or dehumanized.

We don’t have all the answers to the problems in our neighborhood, but we know that coming together and listening to our neighbors is a good place to start. Bushwick is full of creative and resourceful people, and we don’t just have to be passive players in this landscape of constant change. We can shape the change, together.

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My Dreamed-Of Neighborhood

by Sarah Quinter

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It was a little over the month since I’d gotten the news that the rent in our Bushwick apartment was going up dramatically. Spring was finally arriving after a merciless winter, and I hoisted open the first-floor window to allow my cat to leap out into our sun-filled, if scraggly backyard. It hurt my heart to think I might not be able to stay here beyond another year, just as I was starting to build community in the neighborhood and start working on the kind of local projects I’d always wanted to do. I thought, we should be allowed to stay here for as long as we need and want to. Homes should be valuable to the extent that they provide shelter for people, not to the extent they can make money for landlords. I began to indulge in a fantasy of my dreamed-of neighborhood:

No more deciding who gets to stay or go based on who best runs the rat race and on how many advantages they have in that race. We’d instead put our energy into what really matters: the well-being of ourselves and our community, starting at the local level. We’d watch one another’s kids and take care of the sick and elderly. We would beautify each other’s houses and repair neighborhood infrastructure. I’d finally have time to garden in the backyard with my neighbor and his family. He had told me that he’d learned about horticulture in his native Ecuador before immigrating here as a youth. I thought about how he only got to spend time growing vegetables on weekends, while during the week he worked low paying construction jobs that sometimes didn’t even allow him lunch breaks. I knew that in the neighborhood I dreamed of, growing food for one’s family and friends would be a much higher priority than sweating at construction sites in order to enrich wealthy developers. In my dreamed of neighborhood, my Mexican neighbor and I would finally get to build the silkscreen studio in the basement we had been talking about. We could produce art to please ourselves and also print images and messages for our neighbors. You’d pass by people reading books on their stoops and strike up a conversation about literature.

The line between urban versus natural would blur. Fire escapes would double as hanging gardens, and we would be able to identify local wildlife just as accurately as the names of the songs pumping from open windows. Block parties would also be harvest celebrations, and inventors would tinker with solar-powered boom boxes in street corner laboratories.

Our efforts would extend well beyond our local community, however. When storms like Hurricane Sandy hit other parts of our city, we’d caravan out there to help our neighbors. Some of us would participate in national and international assemblies working to better distribute resources and address crises in the world. Children would be educated not only by helping out with the local work, but also by hearing from those working on global efforts. Folks would know what was going on in the news because they and their neighbors were part of making the news.

People would move to our neighborhood because they believed in what we stood for as a community, and they would contribute their gifts to that community upon arrival. They would hear stories from the elders and begin to learn the local languages – not only the linguistic ones, but also the languages of hip-hop and of urban life, of sharing and invention and of cultural exchange.  Immigrants would be appreciated for their talents and experiences rather than being exploited by a system that served neither them nor their neighbors. But they’d no longer be forced to immigrate here, because there would be similarly just and prosperous communities in their own homelands.

I looked out over the rooftops and thought about how the unfair circumstances in Bushwick were connected to unfair circumstances all over the world. The profiteering, the displacement, the inequality are all part of a web stretching across all corners of the globe. In starting to untangle the issues right on our block, we retrace threads forming a much larger tapestry. In trying to reconstruct the fabric of our neighborhood, we reflect on ways the fabric of our whole society could be changed.  I thought, to change our neighborhood, we have to change the world. To change the world, we have to change our neighborhood.