“We Are Here (Brooklyn)”:
Recap of the Sunday, August 1, 2021 Opening
by Bailey’s Cafe Youth Interns Shanelle Gomez (Text) and Jendayi McGeachy (Photo)
Last Sunday’s forecast cautioned us to the possibility of showers. However there was nothing but sunshine that radiated off of our longtime residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Staff members and youth volunteers from Bailey’s Cafe, a space of community healing and belonging in Bedford-Stuyvesant, worked excitedly to make last minute preparations for “We Are Here (Brooklyn),” an installation created by photographer Robyn Twomey and interviewer, Monica L. Williams, and culturally produced by Pia Monique Murray, to celebrate the special community members.
Co-presented by Bailey’s Café with 651 ARTS, the installation will remain for 11 weeks, closing October 17th, and will continue to live on the virtual gallery at asquietasitskept.space/we-are-here.
As time inched closer to start the walking tour, Bailey’s Cafe’s youth volunteers headed to our first location. To my surprise there were many supporters! With over 25 participants, I walked around sharing bright smiles and warm greetings. I overheard shared sentiments of “no rain can touch this parade”! I must say that after participating in the event “We are Here” I am a true believer of affirmations because not one drop touched our event. The air was cool and refreshing and the overcast sky kept everyone’s momentum high and our featured participants’ performances strong!
At our first stop at the Stuyvesant Mansion, we heard from Rodney “Radio Rahim” Deas and Quadisha Avera, Radio emphasized the importance of “being a builder” and how we keep each other and the community strong by building together.
After delivering a powerful statement about the impact of high rents on longtime residents, Ms. Avera shared how “participating in this experience showed me how angry I [was] about what’s going on in the neighborhood. To see it, to live amongst it… but to be asked about it and talk about it and to read [my] words [out loud] it did something to me.”
From the Mansion, we moved down Decatur Street to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church where Herbert Sweat shared his profound poem on being a warrior, both in war and in the community.
Mr. Sweat’s words made the biggest impression on our youth volunteers, Isaiah H. said:
“I felt a big sense of nostalgia. Especially when I heard Sweat share his story. It was full of imagery. I could really see the picture he painted of winter snowball fights, days at the arcade on Broadway and playing games on the block. Life seemed so much easier back then. There was a true sense of community for their generation. Everyone was united, they knew their neighbors and looked out for each other. We don’t see that anymore. Gentrification made us strangers.”
Kazi A. felt a sense of hope from his speech and shared these sentiments: “I was there as a volunteer from Bailey’s Café. It was very insightful to hear the stories of all the feature participants. It resonated with me when Sweat talked about the importance of community and how if we want things to change we must unify as a whole. The whole experience overall made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself.”
Kendra C. went into this event feeling like “nothing more than a pair of helping hands; a reliable youth who managed to ease the burden of the older staff.” She left the event with a deeper realization concluding with the following: “Although my contribution was relatively small, the entire experience was an enlightenment. Through the wisdom and stories of the speakers, I managed to unravel and understand the importance that stems from maintaining and unifying a community.”
At our next stop, the Chauncey Street side of Fulton Park, we heard from Yvonne Moore and her daughter Traci, who shared Quadisha’s frustration with the negative impact of gentrification and the difficulty of finding affordable housing. Despite these realities, the strength of their voices reinforced the sentiment Ms. Williams expressed, “Black residents of Bed-Stuy are here to stay and will keep the culture alive and well.”
The last stop was Jackie Robinson Playground, where the banners featuring Natasha Johnson, Kareem Jenkins and Lawrence James are displayed. Natasha and Kareem were there to share their stories. Kareem spoke of being a long time resident, the fourth generation in the same family home! Natasha reflected upon the fact that Bed-Stuy is what it is because of the people and how, despite the changes, we watch out for each other, keeping each other safe, reminding each other that we are all an important part of the web that makes this neighborhood home.
Later, Kareem reflected on the importance of We Are Here:
“…this project for me was an example of organic community participation. I believe in doing my part for the betterment of this community. This project coincides with that idea of community involvement or all hands on deck to achieve a goal. We evolved from starting out as random residents to becoming a cohesive unit all because Bailey’s Cafe provided this creative space for self-expression.”
We closed the event by properly introducing ourselves to someone new. It was nice to have a name to go with the beautiful smiles, laughter and strolls shared together through Bed-Stuy. I got a chance to speak to a few observers and here is what they had to say about “We Are Here”.
Tiffany, who had found out about “We are Here” through The Skint (a site that talks about entertainment and cultural activities throughout the city), stated “my grandmother is a longtime resident in Bed-Stuy, so I’m not hearing anything new… It is nice to see people mobilizing [as a community]. I enjoyed hearing from the speakers and will look more into the project once I get home.”
Anthony, who came to support our featured speaker, Rodney “Radio Rahim” Deas, explained “it’s great to see people coming together and speaking on positive subjects that’s uplifting one another. It was nice to see how people were dedicated and traveling together to each installation. I was surprised to see the same faces. They really came through. I appreciated all the smiles and laughter. It was also great to see Radio get some recognition given all the work he does for the community.”
When I caught back up with Radio he shared that he believed the installation presented a “Necessary appreciation for residents who have been here, in order to amplify the culture.”
It was nice to hear how similar we all felt about how the event turned out, but there was a bittersweetness to it as well. One that many didn’t want to speak to directly but that as they shared nostalgia for the Bed-Stuy of their upbringing there was a definite sadness for all the familiar places that have been lost.
We really felt the weight when Sweat requested us to take a moment of silence for those who have passed in his community among his generation and those who have moved elsewhere. It was truly impactful and is something that really can’t be properly expressed in words. The silence gave space for the wave of emotions we felt on the day’s physical journey through the neighborhood and spoken journey through residents’ memories. The cloudy skies did more than just provide relief from the summer sun, but also provided the appropriate backdrop for an event that celebrated, in the words of Mr. Sweat, the “quintessential trees we have seen grown here [in Bedford-Stuyvesant].”
Mr. Sweat continued, “I’m here as a living token to you, to say , ‘I see you…’. We’ve had the mixture almost today. Yes, gentrification is the big word, but Bed-Stuy has always had a multiple of colors and always was the center of Brooklyn.”