By Mary Alice Miller
On a gorgeous Saturday in May, the Pitkin Avenue BID welcomed Street Lab to Brownsville’s Zion Triangle Plaza. Street Lab is a collaboration with WNYC’s “Our City, Our Stories” that does public events in open spaces. “WNYC radio collaborates with Street Lab to come out and collect stories from people in neighborhoods to get a better understanding of life in NYC,” said George Bodarky, WNYC Community Partnerships and Training Editor, “and to reflect our diversity on our airwaves and in our journalism to make sure we accurately representing communities.”
Bodarky said he heard a mix of stories in Brownsville. “They run the gamut,” said Bodarky. “There are deeply personal stories of people who have overcome challenge. I have heard stories of loss. There have been joyful moments. Some people have pandemic stories.” One woman spoke of how she used to be able to find dresses and shoes to go out on a Sunday that she feels she can’t find anymore. “She had been here since the 1960s so she has experienced both the positive and the negative and now she sees a reclamation.”
James Moultrie said “We need better initiatives for public safety. Some of these beat cops don’t know the community. They don’t like to say ‘hi’ if they don’t know you.” Moultrie would like the police to get to know the people in the neighborhood. “I think the community would trust the cops more and give more information that they need help with.”
“I grew up on Howard Avenue. I hate it and love it at the same time,” said Phyllis Trent, who lives in the Bronx and came to Brownsville with her 4 year old grandson Nasir to visit her father. “Growing up it was rough. You have the neighborhood bullies, and there has always been crime and violence. My mom always tried to keep involved in after school programs and took us out of the community to do other things like basketball, baseball, football. Whatever my mom could do with us she did it to keep us from hanging out in the streets.”
Trent spoke of the murder of her brother on Ralph Avenue in August 2021. “He was thrown off a building 4 stories to his death. The detectives tried to tell us at first that it was a suicide but I knew in my heart is was not a suicide. It was a homicide, a murder,” said Trent. “We didn’t find out until November when the second autopsy came back actual homicide blunt force impact to torso and extremities. He died a very horrible, tragic death. I was home about to go to bed at 1:30 in the morning when I got the call. I had to come all the was from the Bronx in an Uber to go to Brookdale hospital to identify his body and I had to do that alone.”
“One of the childhood friends that he knew took his life. That’s what the streets were saying. My brother knew the person that did it to him,” said Trent. “They have this thing don’t see nothing, don’t say nothing, no snitching policy. I don’t get it. I don’t need the whole community to come forward. It only take one person with a good heart. If you know something, say something. The day I lost my brother I lost myself.
Tiera Mack, Pitkin Avenue BID Executive Director said she hosted Street Lab to activate
Zion Triangle Plaza. Under Mack’s tenure, Pitkin BID has hosted a Haunted Villy, a 30 day haunted house activity for the community. She has showcased local Black owned businesses. The Pitkin BID has partnered with Chase Bank to do 4 weeks of financial literacy workshops and teamed with Camba to do an Easter Egg hunt. Twice a year they do a small business resource and job fair and twice a year they do a community clean up. Pitkin Avenue BID also does a Holiday Market that allows local entrepreneurs to vend for free in Zion Triangle Plaza. They had a film screening called The Sun Rises in the East. “The first 20 minutes of the film was about this community,” said Mack. “It was necessary that we showed it. We had a catered reception afterwards.”
Mack said the highlight of her tenure is her sanitation efforts. “On my first day, garbage was on fire in front of Sal and Paul’s Pizzeria, which is a legacy business that has been here for 30 years, our only pizza shop on Pitkin Avenue. There was actual garbage on fire,” said Mack. “Sanitation is a basic bid service, if you do nothing else at a bid you are supposed to have good supplemental sanitation.”
Mack has doubled sanitation hours on Pitkin Avenue, which has also increased local employment for BID sanitation workers who are being trained in pressure washing and graffiti removal. “We installed city bins so that we lock the garbage up. We don’t have garbage on the corner. That is my proudest accomplishment,” said Mack. “So often we do showy things instead of taking care of the core. Sanitation is the core. You don’t go anywhere else and walk down a dirty street.”
Bodarky said Street Lab will visit neighborhoods throughout NYC scheduled through October, and beyond.