Black Central Brooklyn is Alive
On Saturday, October 8, members of one of New York’s oldest Black communities will congregate for a day of food, art, music, and performances. The Bed-Stuy Alive event is a years-old tradition representing the best of what this centuries-old community has to offer. It’s a celebration – both of the neighborhood today and of its proud history – that declares Black Central Brooklyn is Alive, along with the legacy it carries. As we kick back for a day of joy, we have an opportunity to remind ourselves of how to ensure that it remains true for generations to come.
Since January, I have served in the New York City council representing the 36th District, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, North Crown Heights, and Weeksville. These three neighborhoods are not just some of the oldest communities in Brooklyn; they contain Brooklyn’s oldest free Black community as well. Every day, we walk in their footsteps.
The privilege of growing up, living, and working in this district is closely coupled with responsibility. Each of us carries this obligation: to our neighbors and our roots. It’s up to us to keep these blocks alive.
But the history of affordability and livability that allowed us to maintain this community is slipping away. As rents skyrocket and wages stagnate, it becomes harder each year for those born in our communities to remain here. The prospect of a stable job is slipping away for young Brooklynites, and we cannot keep up with the outside wealth pouring in.
Older neighbors face their own set of concerns. Living costs soar against fixed incomes, while those who own their homes are relentlessly targeted for deed theft. The vibrant culture we spent generations building brings well-deserved value to our neighborhoods but makes them targets for predatory real estate.
This year, the name “Bed-Stuy Alive” takes on special significance as we emerge from the Covid-19 Pandemic, which cut into Black New York with disproportionate fury. We suffered heavy losses, from the economic damage that shook us to our core to the irreplaceable loss of life.
When we declare that our community is alive, it’s a statement of triumph. It also recognizes something we cannot take for granted and must continue building daily. The same neighborhoods that produced the kings of Hip-Hop are the ones that sent Shirley Chisolm to represent us as the first Black woman to ever serve in the United States Congress. Our communities are defined by persevering in the face of adversity, guaranteeing our own fortune, and the culture we built along the way. We will keep these communities alive by mirroring the strength and craft of those who came before us while adapting those traits for the unique needs of the 21st Century.
Just a few decades ago, no one would have predicted that our desirability would drive housing costs to these levels. Nor would they have predicted so many of our youth graduating high school and moving to pursue higher education. We are better equipped than ever to face the challenges before us; what’s left is to rise to the occasion.
Everyone, from students to business owners, can get involved in continuing what makes these communities unique. Sincerely, Tommy, the Bed-Stuy clothing boutique, sets a strong example by hosting its Building Black Bed-Stuy event.
Neighbors on Monroe and Lewis host an annual block party to discover, recount, and preserve their history. By stepping outside our private spaces to contribute to the greater world we are blessed to be a part of, we fulfill our responsibility as stewards of these Black Brooklyn Blocks.
We keep us alive. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Chi Ossé is the Council Member for New York City’s 36th District, representing Bedford-Stuyvesant and North Crown Heights. He entered politics as an organizer andprominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement. At 23 years old, Ossé was elected in 2021 as the youngest member of this Council and its only member