gentrification

Hands Up, But They Still Shoot

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It is said that the NYC police department will be issuing a budget to get body cameras in which police officers will be required to record when interacting with civilians. We live in a country where the Eric Garner murder was recorded, the coroner declared it a homicide, and still No Justice. Mike Brown had his hands up and Darren Wilson still shot the innocent teenager and Trayvon Martin yelled for his life as Zimmerman gunned him down. Along with many other black and brown lives taken inhumanely. Yet America has labeled us the animals.
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To say there is a problem within our policing system would be an understatement. It is corrupt from the bottom up and has always been rooted by a white supremacist system. Black and brown people have a civil right to be treated with equality. People of color should not feel threatened by police presence as opposed to feeling safe. Mothers shouldn’t have to verbally train their sons how to be, act, speak, and react around law enforcement. We are living in an era where you have to teach your children if ever stopped to not resist, to keep their hands where cops can see them at all times. Things that white mothers and fathers are not subjected to as black and brown communities are. The truth in white privilege.
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One of the things that seems to come up a lot during these conversations is “Let’s not play the race card.” I think what people don’t understand is that that’s exactly what people are doing. Playing the hand that was dealt. And if people are tired of hearing about it, imagine how hard it is to live it every single day of your life. Our black and brown communities need to love each other, protect each other, build from the roots up. We have to learn our culture in order to find the truth within ourselves. We have to teach our youth. They are the target and it is our responsibility to give them safe spaces where they can be creative and learn to use their voices.
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Growing up, we learned that history had a way of repeating itself. I think I always knew I’d be a part of something life-changing and altering. My first protest was for the Mike Brown verdict. I remember feeling like it was my obligation, my social responsibility to be there, to be an extra body and voice. A couple of close friends and I walked to the train and for the whole ride I felt pretty numb. My friend asked if I was ok. I told him I was. He went on to explain that i must remain level-headed at all times, and that I can’t let my emotions control my actions. I smiled and recall saying, “I’m good.” He said, “you don’t understand, this is something new to you and very powerful.” I just nodded. Our stop finally came, we got off and approached to street level. Outside you could see a lot of people with signs. Some looked confused, didn’t know which way to go, while others led the way. Three blocks into walking, I heard them. All in unity, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard in my life. It was so powerful and so unified that it brought tears to my eyes. At that moment I felt connected. The more we walked and the bigger we got I started to feel like I had done this before. I have a friend who always talks to me about blood memory. I get so passionate about things and feel so connected to my culture that it makes me feel as if I have been here before. As if I have fought this battle before – and we have. It’s in our blood. We are fighting a systemic form of oppression that has been going on for way too long. Everywhere we turn we have to fight the system in some way, shape, or form. Our families deserve better than that. Our children aren’t animals.
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The system shouldn’t hold the power to decide which of our people live or die!
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In the fight for justice, we hope that the families of the lost ones find some type of peace and, although it may hurt, they are never alone. As a woman of indigenous ethnicity raising a son, I also live in fear of a system run by oppression and white supremacy. We as the people must join forces and learn to value each other as brothers and sisters.

I hope for peace and justice, especially for our youth .
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Yes, all lives matter!
BUT
IT’S APPARENT THAT OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM DOES NOT VALUE THE LIVES OF BLACKS!

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 Written By : Jazo Brooklyn 

Edited By: Madeline Kennedy

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Human Geographies of Bushwick, continued…

by Chiara Valli

Our two latest interviews are with Steve and Rosa. Steve moved to Bushwick eight years ago; Rosa was born here. They both have struggled with ´making Bushwick better´, but from very different perspectives.

You can read the original installment here.

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STEVE, male, 40 y.o., white, from Michigan, café owner

I moved here 8 years ago from Michigan, I worked in a restaurant back there and I came here hoping to open a small café.

What’s cool here in Bushwick is that all the new businesses coming out we all know each other, we have all met each other over the years so whenever anybody starts a business we are all pretty supportive of such things. The people here are really great. You tend to move here for a purpose: you have school or you want to do something artistic, and there is a great community for that, a lot of young folk, it’s getting younger and younger to me. And everyone I meet is so interesting and they are all from all over the place, so it’s a cool melting pot within the giant melting pot.

When I moved here I liked the idea to start something fresh, doing something that hasn’t been done for 20-30 years… really there wasn’t a coffee shop, there were bodega coffee, corner store coffee, but there was no coffee shop, so we were like “let’s just open a coffee shop, let’s do this”, I remember sitting down and say “we need a good restaurant, we need coffee shop, a nice bookstore”, and now, seven years later, these things are tripled, you know in the last six months six coffee shops opened up, I was the only one for a long time, and now there is a bunch of them, but they are all spread out, and we all get along and I know most of them too. I just like the idea of making things nicer, it used to be pretty scary around here, I wouldn’t hang out on Knickerbocker or I wouldn’t travel much towards the bigger part of Bushwick, you know we are in the north corner of Bushwick, Bushwick is bigger. But now it feels a lot safer, cleaner, the people who moved here found that people who lived here were amazing, so much culture. Unfortunately now there are higher rents, risks of being kicked out, greedy landlords… it’s really sad. Is that progress? I don’t know. It sure seems to be much nicer than before.

Honestly I love to eat brunch, that’s my thing. I sleep late and then I like to eat brunch and there wasn’t a place here for that. I wanted to do it; this neighborhood didn’t have that at the time. So I did it out of necessity I guess. There wasn’t a place to get good coffee, and we did that.

Am I a jerk for living here? Am I jerk for people moving because the rent went up? Am I a jerk for opening a coffee shop because it’s nicer than it was before, I mean, am I a jerk? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Am I opportunistic or do I just want to make things better? People here wanted some things. I mean, I could barely get lunch here three years ago, that’s why I opened my second café, so there was a place to get a good lunch. Now there are lots of places.

The topic of gentrification is sticky; it’s hard to talk about. And I think it’s always been this way in New York, you know before there were the Dutch, and then the Italians, then Germans, and now it’s like Hispanic and Black, and now it’s “whitey”. Things are always changing. You know the history of Bushwick, there was the fire and it was desolated and scary, so if people want to make it better, it’s cool, right?

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ROSA, female, 26 y.o., Dominican background, Bushwick native, student and employed in a NGO

What I struggle with is that when people talk about new people coming in and when they say it in a positive light it’s almost like as they are ‘cleaning it up’. Meanwhile it’s always been pretty good. Where I lived people worked hard to make their neighborhood great, and they did it. It wasn’t safe in certain areas, but wherever we called it ‘home’ we made a home out of it. So when I got to my block I always felt safe. People always watched out for each other, we always watched out for the kids, I offered tutoring the kids, as I got older I helped. We don’t live there anymore because we couldn’t afford it but, but if you go there during Christmas time all the houses were competing with each other to make the best Christmas decorations, during Halloween people would compete to each other to make the best Halloween decorations… those are the kind of things that make a community. When people want to make it prettier, they want to make it more fun.

And it makes me really angry when people say that the people who lived previously in now gentrified areas didn’t care about where they lived. If they didn’t care about where they lived, would they be living like animals? No. If you come on a morning on a Saturday or a Sunday you will see people sweeping the streets, it’s because they are taking care of their stuff. If you see their plants hanging up against the windows it’s because they are taking care of their stuff. If you live in a place you are not going to leave it go to shit, right? But if you don’t have the means to pay for remodel, you are not going to do it.

A lot of people have like ‘made Bushwick precious´ and fetishized it, and think of it as something really nice. This is just people’s home, this is fucking home, this is what it is. It’s not an art project. All of the people who have been moving in – I would love people moving here and stay here for a long period of time, so we could invest in the people who moved here. But if this is just a place for you to be while you are in graduate school, if you are just a transient audience and you don’t invest yourself in this community, then why the hell people are going to give you a chance to talk to you? While at the same time, let’s complicate that. If you were in a community that were more open to people, who would give this community more exposure in a meaningful way through research, through art, maybe people would try to make that gentrification more compassionate. I think in both parts there is an issue. It’s the distrust.

 

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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Human Geographies of Bushwick

by Chiara Valli

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My name is Chiara Valli. I am an Italian PhD student in Human Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden, who has spent six months in Bushwick doing research about how the neighborhood has been changing and how its residents feel about it.

In academic literature about gentrification, much attention has been paid on the economic or cultural aspects of it. However, less attention has been given to every-day experiences of gentrification on a micro level. In my research, I have tried to explore peoples’ sense of place and belonging in a neighborhood in transition such as Bushwick. I have interviewed almost 40 Bushwick residents, both long-term and new residents and asked them about their experiences in living in the neighborhood. The richness of different perspectives and nuances in this big picture astonished me. Something I have noticed during almost every one of my interviews was a general curiosity about the interviewees in getting to know what other people had said. The curiosity was there, but vey rarely had the interviewees been able to engage in meaningful conversations about gentrification with people belonging to different cultural or ethnic groups. Various barriers appear to still divide neighbors that share the space of the neighborhood and not much else. I myself had difficulties in getting in touch with some people I would have liked to interview. Undoubtedly, my being a white woman researcher from Europe in my late twenties has made it easier to approach some and harder to gain trust from others. The effects of embodying a certain identity are particularly relevant in a space which is undergoing the sensitive process of gentrification. In a gentrifying neighborhood, every relation is loaded with high stakes: home, community, and sense of belonging. All these feelings represent yet another barrier to communication between different groups.

In the spirit of Bushwick Bridge, I would like to make a step towards bridging people, groups and communities using the means that are available to me. During my interviews I have had access to a wide and rich amount of information from different people. With the aim to share some of this information I organized an event at Silent Barn on May 18th, 2014 together with Margaret Croft and Kunal Gupta. I have summarized 16 interviews (and made them anonymous by changing names or specific info), and invited the audience to read them and together producing a zine, cutting and pasting quotes from the interviews, and adding their own reflections. Drawing on the interviews, other Bushwick residents have learned about their neighbors’ points of view, re-elaborated these points, added their own and finally produced a zine that will be reproduced and shared for other people to read.

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With this event of knowledge co-production, we have tried to create a space for discussion, reflection, and exchange for Bushwick’s voices and perspectives. You can find the zine here.

You can also find a table with the interviews texts on AiB Community Day, May 31st, Maria Hernandez Park, Bushwick.

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MIGUEL, 36 y.o., Puerto Rican origins, Bushwick native, high school teacher

Some people are mad. As a matter of fact, that’s an understatement. A lot of people are mad. I speak to friends in the community, family members, some people feel their homes and their community are being taken away from them and they feel the community is changing and they are not part of that change. Some people feel like they have been forced out of their neighborhood because they cannot afford to live here anymore. Some people feel that the people who are coming here don’t necessarily want to have anything to do with them. It’s very subjective because it’s how you experience it and the truth is there should be ways where there is some mediation for that.

You pass by and you see that the business is flourishing, and it probably flourishes because the new people that are moving to the community support those businesses, but the people that have lived in the community don’t feel that those businesses really would  like to cater to them. Because you go in and maybe they might be serving brunch, but brunch is really expensive, When these people are accustomed to go into the corner store and maybe getting a breakfast for 2 or 3 $. So now if you go to certain businesses, they cater to people who can afford particular prices, and the people of the community who still live here, who grew up here, are very aware of that.  Even those who might have a decent income, they might not necessarily hang up there because there is nobody like them there, there is no people from the community they grew up with. People don’t necessarily hang out in those places. It seems like a story of two tales, and both sides are pointing the finger at each other, saying that’s their fault.

I think people like art, art is like the freedom of expression, and there were a lot of high points where people were enjoying the beautification, maybe some places that were littered, dirty, they cleaned it up, art is art and is beautiful, but then some people take a nice platform and then they might abuse the opportunity, and put up things that might seem offensive to the people who grew there.

Art is beautiful but if it’s not done correctly… for me, your artistic expression should be respecting diversity, if you want to send a message out, you have to be very careful, because your good can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

So if you are an artist and you do art, to me I deem you as a person irresponsible or negligent artist if you express art that offends people who live in the community. So now I question your art: what’s more important, your art or the community? Are you a person who is looking to do art that expresses a message that looks to offend? Are you being political with your art? What is your agenda? What is your purpose? What is your intention? The absence of information only allows people to speculate. So if you are going to express a message, and you are not going to make information available, you shouldn’t be mad when people speculate, because that’s their right to speculate. Especially when it may offend them.

These are unintended consequences. And for me unintended consequences are when you don’t think things through. Or the truth is maybe they are intended consequences, and if they are intended consequences it means you thought it through and it wasn’t really important to you whatever the consequences were going to be. Because what your agenda was, supersedes what you knew the reactions were going to be.

This could be an interpretation of gentrification in general. Everybody is aware of the dynamics and consequences, but it’s happening anyway.

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JENNY – 24 y.o., female, white, art curator and artist, owns a gallery in Bushwick

I moved here three years ago, I moved here because I was graduating from art school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to live in a city. I went to a small college that really fostered DIY, the idea of making your own fun, setting up shows, and all that stuff that you could do as a student.

So I wanted to keep doing that in the real world. And everybody told me “Bushwick seems to be the place for you because there it’s what everybody is doing, with pop-up galleries, doing things on their own, and there is the infrastructure there, with all those warehouses, it’s really gritty and it’s still cheap”. So I just found a place to move out here and I started immersing myself as much as I could into the Bushwick life. I started teaching art classes, and later I decided to open my own gallery in the neighborhood.

My artistic work has changed a lot since I’ve moved here, to reflect this environment of Bushwick, and what it turned up in was a sort of alternate reality. There are so many people here, so many young people, so many parties, so I focus on that, the party scene, bar scene, everybody doing these things that are so close to each other, but… how real is that? People come here and it seems like a dreamland, not a real place. A lot of people have unusual jobs, nobody seems to work 9-5, people are out any hour any day, I’m interested in trying to portrait that.

C:  Do you think people might think of you as a hipster?

Oh, I´m sure they do. But they are nice. Generally, when I go into the deli and someone from the neighborhood is there, they will be like: “oh are you new here? Oh, let me know if you ever need anything”. They are just really nice and all the guys that work at the delis are really nice too. Which surprises me, you know, sometimes you wonder if people secretly get pissed off to see more kids coming in. That´s what I would expect, honestly. Even my friend and I are like that: every time a new bar or restaurant opens up we are like “F***! This place sucks, it looks like Williamsburg! Every time a place like that opens we’re gonna leave from here sooner”.

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LAYLA, 29 Y.O., female, African American, Bushwick native, works as dentist assistant 

Gentrification is gonna happen, it doesn’t mean we cannot change the way we see it

There are a lot of people that are self-defeating people in this area, a lot. There are a lot of black people with self-defeating mentality, but it´s not really about your color. You become a person of a certain kind of color when you start acting like a person of a certain kind of color. When you are a black person and you are acting like a freaking idiot, you are the same gentrifier yourself. You could be a white person and say “hey what do you need me to do to help with what you are doing? What can we do as a community?”.

If there is an expensive place and I want to live there, then my goal is to be hired in a better job and make more money, if my rent goes up, now I have to be entrepreneurial and find more ways to make extra money. People that want to be here and they are not big-money people, they have to adapt. That´s what we do, we adapt. So if this house cost a lot of money and you wanna live there, you are gonna adapt. I wanna live in Brooklyn and I wanna own in Brooklyn, and I don’t want to sit back “oh no I can´t afford it”. So I have to work more for it. That way you can create more entrepreneurs, more businesses and create more houses, because nobody wants to be kicked out of their neighborhood and I don’t think a few people with money could do that.

Gentrification comes after many things. There is something deeper, which is racism and segregation and our own people´s mentality of feeling inferior and not trusting or putting value in each other.

Our people have the passive-aggressive mentality of being always unsatisfied and discontent and accept this condition without ever doing anything.

For example I know many black homeowners who do not rent to black people, they only rent to whites because they are a more secure investment. This hurts our people more than gentrification.

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Welcome to the Barnyard

by Camilla Zhang

People getting pumped up for ELM's performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandPeople getting pumped up for ELM’s performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

When one takes a gander at Silent Barn, located at 603 Bushwick Avenue, it appears to be just another closed and somewhat ramshackle storefront. Upon further analysis of the oddly electric, pastel mural covering the gate, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that this space is frequented by “hipsters.” What then, makes Silent Barn (otherwise known as “the Barn”) different from other art spaces in Bushwick? For starters, they possess a genuine and proven commitment to diverse programming. They also have a Community Outreach group that is dedicated to ensure that the arts collective is a socially conscious one.

According to its website, Silent Barn “is a multi-functional all-ages art incubation space,” but in reality, it is so much more than that. This is certainly a biased statement, as I myself recently became a member of Silent Barn’s Community Outreach group. I had no prior art collective experience and that’s precisely why Silent Barn is unique. You can just dive in if you want to be involved. For example, the youth group, Educated Little Monsters (ELM) holds their weekly workshops there. Meanwhile, I’ve co-organized an exhibition of paintings by seniors of the Diana Jones Center, which is a block away from Silent Barn. The neighborhood activist group, Northwest Bushwick got their start at the Barn. And the arts collective has so much more in store.

Everyone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF ClarkeEveryone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF Clarke

After one of our bi-weekly meetings, I sat with two members of the Outreach group, Brandon Zwagerman and Andrew McFarland, to get the scoop on why Silent Barn cares and how it sees its role within Bushwick. The Barn is referred to as a DIY space, but Zwagerman prefers the term “DIT (Do It Together) culture and [what its] values embrace and put forward: that without a lot of resources anyone can put on cultural events and bring people together. It’s about accessibility to a lot of different people.”

Zwagerman helped the Barn find their current location a little over a year ago. He said, “It was tough because we wanted a space that was both commercial and residential, kind of a holistic 24-hour idea.” When they signed a ten-year lease, they knew they wanted to serve and sustain the community.

 Natives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandNatives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

When asked about their aspirations for the community, Zwagerman said, “My hopes would be more connections made between different sub-communities in the neighborhood; creating new links, cohesiveness, and collaboration between people of different backgrounds, ages, and values, hopefully all with shared goals of making the neighborhood more liveable, safe, affordable, happy. This all sounds very idealistic, but you have to believe and hope for these things.”

Andrew McFarland added, “I’d love to see more social and cultural sustainability. From a DIY scene aspect, I think a lot of people–especially with 285 Kent closing down on the Williamsburg waterfront this past winter– are talking about how scenes are sort of just moving as gentrification moves us. I would love for things to just stay still for a while and for people to actually form connections with cultural resources, like Silent Barn. We can be invested in the community for the long term instead of moving every couple of years to a cheaper neighborhood. Cause I don’t think that’s in the community’s best interest either. I think that our fates are intertwined.”

 Mr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn - Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF ClarkeMr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn – Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF Clarke

I interjected, “Pretty soon, there won’t be any place left to run, for any of us!” McFarland echoed my sentiments, saying, “If we want to be sustainable culturally we have to be sustainable socially, which means making the neighborhood affordable and [acknowledging] that we’re connected to certain groups. All people are actors and players in our neighborhood, because we are definitely all in the same boat.”

In regards to noticeable differences Silent Barn has made, Zwagerman recounted March 8, 2014, when ELM had their open mic: “Awesome neighborhood kids performed and the crowd seemed to like it. [There were] a lot of different folks who maybe haven’t been together at the same event at all. I’d like to hope that some crossover happens when you put a bunch of folks in the same room when they don’t know each other. At the very least, there’s shared cultural expression happening between the audience and performers.”

McFarland reminisced about the significant “Tongues” event organized last June by  Amritha [Kidambi] of ISSUE Project Room. “It was traditional Indian music with the Sitar. It was a beautiful night. There were other [non-Indian] artists that played songs inspired by Indian music. The event had different cross-cultural pollination. The great thing about it was that it was on a night in June and it was pretty warm and everyone was sitting on the floor of Manhattan room, the main space at Silent Barn, and it was totally full. Everyone was sitting cross-legged over the entire floor and it was so quiet in there, you could hear a pin drop. Then this beautiful music was just radiating out of the building through the warm air. It was a really awesome night. It had a lot of Indian people, but there were a lot of White twenty-somethings too. It was cool to have [experienced]. It’d be really amazing to have another event like that.

Eventually, I came to the hard, heavy-handed question, “Why do you care?” Zwagerman himself created his own DIY space in Ann Arbor, MI. After hosting a bunch of music shows in his living room, he thought, “‘Wow, you can really just bring people together like that by having a space, seeing if a few people want to perform and telling a few people it’s happening.’ It was like a really simple thing, but also really needed and powerful and people seemed to love it. So I started doing shows regularly and it expanded to some larger things in Michigan.

“But I moved to New York seven years ago and tried booking shows at a bar in Long Island City. I just got disillusioned with the music scene here in particular. I thought it really sucked. They’re really cold and ask you who you’re here to see and check off a tally mark at the door at all these clubs. It’s a very mechanical thing; admitting that people don’t actually want to see a full-billed show, because we’re all to busy. People don’t try to curate holistically. I was really bummed about it all until about five or six years ago when I found the DIY scene, like Market Hotel, etc.

 ELM youth on the micELM youth on the mic. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

“I think in particular, the old Silent Barn on 915 Wyckoff, was probably the most intimate, homey space I found. People performing in this small space in the kitchen. Really nice people and it felt like those old house shows in Michigan, so I really connected with that. I don’t know. It’s something, I think, a way for people to become involved with the community. It makes the community seem smaller and more personal and [it also allows you to] share artistic expression in an immediate way. That’s just why Silent Barn is important to me in general and why bringing that to the surrounding neighborhood is important to me.

“We’re going to be around for the next nine years. I guess I just have a civic sense about me. I really believe in the small scale democratic values of participatory collaboration between neighbors…If we were to just exist there and serve whomever’s existing friends not the people who live two blocks away, I think it’d be a really sad thing. Spaces are a premium in NYC as is the whole infrastructure for performance in the arts. We could offer that to the neighborhood. Neighbors can take us up on it. I think it’d be a really wonderful thing and hopefully we can be a positive force in the world around us.”

Juggling art, gentrification, and the practicalities of housing issues is a tricky thing, but Silent Barn is doing pretty well so far. McFarland noted that “there was a tenants rights panel back in November; a housing rights discussion with lawyers.” Zwagerman chimed in, saying, “Primarily we’re an arts organization, but we’re also a space for public forums and information and discussion of any type, political, informational or otherwise and we’re very interested on a whole in hosting these types of events and facilitating them.”

 Tres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandTres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

In truth, all art is media, and as McFarland explained, “media, especially today with the internet, is such an important tool for bonding and bridging communities.” Silent Barn is still growing, but they’ve made tremendous strides by incorporating the leadership of organizers, like Jaz Colon, who are already tied in with long-term communities. In fact, a few weeks ago, Jaz herself became a “chef,” a term used to designate core members of the Silent Barn. With “chef” status, Jaz can organize and host her own events and daytime programming.

This is only the beginning. We can make our communities better by “DIT”. People who had nothing to do with Silent Barn, like Jaz and I, became involved and so can you. Silent Barn Community Outreach is always looking for new members. If you have a vision for a more sustainable community, don’t be shy! You can contact us at silentbarnispeople@googlegroups.com.

The Yard Party's bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandThe Yard Party’s bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

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.

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.