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Rhonda Lewis on Leaving the Bridge Street Development Corp.: Message to the Community

After ten years as president & CEO of Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC), I find myself reflecting on the changes of the past decade and what they have meant to the great and historic community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, to BSDC, and to me. Leading BSDC for the past 10 years as its second president and CEO has been the most rewarding professional experience of my long career in community development. At the end of the day, my time with BSDC has truly changed my life. My ongoing relationships with life-long residents who openly share their rich and awesome stories of being raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant deepened my resolve to preserve this wonderful community. The mentoring and encouragement I received from committed residents, official and unofficial leaders, and business owners has contributed to my being a more effective leader, a stronger advocate for people in need, and a better team player. For your unwavering support, I thank you. I am proud to be a part of Bridge Street AWME Church. Sheltering freedom seekers as a stop on the Underground Railroad is only part of the 250 year tradition of this historic giant. Its history of community activism is very much alive and well in the mission of BSDC. The staff and I have made it a priority to continue the important work started so many years ago.
Today, at its core, BSDC still assists freedom seekers—families who seek the freedom of a safe, affordable home to call their own; entrepreneurs who seek the freedom that comes with owning a business; concerned citizens who seek freedom from crime and gang violence in their neighborhood; and senior citizens who seek the freedom to live the last chapter of their lives with dignity and hope. However, BSDC would not able to complete its vital work without the assistance and partnership of the community at large.
Since 2001 our community has faced significant challenges and experienced momentous successes. The housing boom and economic crisis hit Bedford-Stuyvesant especially hard, with predatory lenders swooping in during the boom and foreclosure rates soaring during the crisis. The continuing gentrification of the area, while positive in many regards, has been a factor in pricing out longtime residents. But crime rates have dropped significantly, new and unique businesses are thriving, and people throughout the city have come to recognize the unique historical, social, and recreational opportunities offered in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community.
Over the past decade, in response to growing and changing community needs, BSDC has expanded and diversified its offerings, creating an interlocking, synergistic web of programs and services which, together, offer Bedford-Stuyvesant more than the sum of their parts. Our anti-predatory lending and foreclosure prevention programs have made our vibrant community a destination point for many new businesses. Our economic development program created and sustained many of these diverse businesses and our sought after neighborhood has become a magnet for both renters and homebuyers. Through community organizing, our streets are safer – an essential quality for any neighborhood to grow and flourish and the Bedford-Stuyvesant community is clearly growing and flourishing.
I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to the following organizations and individuals, without whose support and assistance BSDC could not have been as successful; I know they will all be just as helpful to and supportive of my successor as they were with me—the dedicated staff and board of directors of BSDC; Pastor David B. Cousin, Senior Pastor of Bridge Street AMWE Church, Edward Odom, Chair of BSDC; Edison Jackson and John Flateau, former Chairs of BSDC; Colvin W. Grannum, founding President of BSDC; the many foundations, corporations and individuals who generously provide funding to support BSDC’s efforts; the 23 organizations that make up the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant; Community Board 3; Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation; Pratt Area Community Council; the men and women of the New York Police Department’s 79th and 81st precincts; Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation; Congressman Edolphus Towns; Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke; NYC Council Member Albert Vann; Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz; NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery; NYS Assembly Member Annette Robinson; NYC Council Member Leticia James; NYS Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries; NYC Council Member Darlene Mealy; District Leader Robert E. Cornegy, Jr.; and most importantly, the residents of the Bedford-Stuyvesant community.
I am very honored to have had the opportunity to work with you all.
Rhonda A. Lewis, outgoing President and CEO of Bridge Street Development Corporation, will become the executive director of the Greater Newark LISC program in January 2012.

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