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Where community action and artistic vision coalesce

Community Initiative Digest

This is a log of our ongoing efforts and initiatives. We hope to create something that is informative and enlightening while it documents our successes and failures.
scroll down to read entire s6k.com Comm Works digest

[ 1st entry ]

After talking to everyone we could reach in the neighborhood, which assumed mixed results and opinions, we've installed the garbage cans and the community feedback is in.

As we had planned, we put in the garbage cans and then showed the community, by example, how having a cleaner street can affect community mood and respect. Most of the people had said they wouldn't get used and they would be destroyed in days.

Neither assessment was true. The garbage cans have been continually maintained and they have been used consistantly since their installation.

After our extremely visible work in the community, we have been asked to work in conjuction with the block association. This will enable us to connect resources in the community that have either been ignored or have been working in a non-collaborative manner.

A sister had mentioned to me in the laundraumat that we may be the catalyst the community needed and has pledged total support to any effort we initiate. Also that day, a number of people thanked me for putting in the cans.

Now we've had many people showing respect to our efforts that only laughed before. Many people in the community now acknowledge that the cans make a difference.

We feel that this has sparked a community respect, however slight, that may not have existed prior. This also proved that those naysayers should spend more time designing way to get people involved and supporting than complaining and minimizing others efforts.

Success! One for the "hardheaded guy". It seemed that even the people who were in agreement that the cans should go in, felt it was a valiant, yet futile effort.

Well, I talked to one of the gentlemen that do cleaning maintainence for the building on the corner of Marcy and Gates. He told me THEY WORK! He's seen a difference that has allowed their team to focuss their already thinly divided efforts to the interior of the huge "superblock" structures.

I've also been given another shot in the arm by a parent who lives on the opposite side of the street. He said, "Yo Man, you're going in the right direction". This was directly after he corrected his son for throwing garbage on the ground. "Hey! Come on now. You know better than that. Put that in the garbage can," he emphatically exclaimed.

Versions of this statement are no longer rare...on this block. There's still a lot of work to do. But to see the neighborhood responding posivitely to something that, if it were up for a community vote, would've never happened is exciting. For s6k, it's the everyday small things that make it all worth while.

"You can't fail when it's the effort of doing that's your goal." DH

Ok. We were bound to suffer set-backs, though this one came from an unlikely place. I came home this morning, 2:30am, to find our can (#1 on the map) overflowing with household garbage. The cans have worked fine except in front of my own building. I'm not sure who is throwing their household garbage in it, and they are doing it in a very disrespectful manner. I inquired with a community rep as to the best place to relocate the can.

After consideration, I'm moving the can to the corner of Marcy and Gates. I find it hard to believe that the people in the "superblock" structure were able to grasp the concept and the "adults" in the brownstones obviously did not. It might work out for the best. We still need more funding to install the other cans, so to relocate that can / sign to a very visible corner might strategically work better.

Today, I have the displeasure of having to log this. While I was doing laundry, Brenda, the manager, told me that a kid drove to the police precinct around the corner from me, walked up to the building to position himself, and then put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, splattering his brains all over the wall.

I'm not sure how to deal with this. There should've been another option. But there wasn't one. He should have been somewhere in tears dealing with his issues instead of in the morgue. No one has any information on the kid or why he did it. I refer to him as a kid, but he was of legal driving age, I think. When I know, you will. I've been told previously that a can utilize a place down the street for community youth meetings. Unfortunately, I will have to take this up quicker than I had planned. Blessings

OK. I heard a bit of gossip that I haven't been able to substanciate about the young man who comitted suicide. It's said that he did it over his emotions for a young lady. I don't know what the situation was between them. I guess that will unravel over the next week or so.

So the cans are working fine thus far. People are getting used to them being there and they are using them, making sure the lids are properly on the cans and so on. The relocation of the can, previously mentioned, is working out as well.

I've been going to social meetings in Harlem at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, lead by legendary activist Bob Law. It seems to me that they have great strategies, but a seemingly small infrastructure in which to execute the visions. I've offered to supply them with a FREE web presence, but to a luke-warm response. I am waiting for an email from them, but I've not gotten a response from them. As a matter of fact, I haven't received an email from anyone that I've met up there, although I've been promised that I would receive a communication, and it's been over 2 weeks.

This is the primary reason I'm doing this log. I want people to know that when you apply yourself, it doesn't mean that everyone, or anyone for that matter, is going to recognize your efforts and assist and/or praise you. You HAVE to do things because YOU understand what needs to be done, assess what YOU can personally and realistically do, and then do it.

Realize this fact. In most cases, if you don't do it, it won't get done. I hope to produce a neigborhhood community forum in early September 2003. I'm also supposed to go to the Block Association meeting next week. Let's hope the Harlem contingent has contacted me by then. Between them and WBAI, I'll need a bit of both to pull off an event that can really mobilize the community. I'll also require their input to have something impressive enough to propose at my first appearance with the BA to get them behind my efforts.

There has been a substantial leap from my last posting. I don't want to get too cocky but, YEH!!!!!!!!! I was told that the BA meeting wouldn't be until the second Sat in September. I felt the was too far in the future and something needed to be done now. After much contemplation about the failure of the Block Association (BA) to obtain a permit, I came up with a strategy.

It's simple. There will be people partying on Labor Day weekend on the streets anyway, why not use that energy to the community's advantage. So I had a talk with Mr. Hickman, second in charge on the BA, and told him that I was going to produce the First Annual Community Celebration. He responded, "It's too late to get a permit to block off the street." I told him there was no need to block off the street for this concept.

It was designed to specifically work within the confines of having the street open. He then wanted to have a meeting. I told him about my concerns of having other people come in who had initiated nothing and yet would have a yeh or ney power bestowed upon them. I also reminded him, if the garbage can concept had been up to a vote, it would've never happened either.

After informing him that I will work in conjunction with ANY strategy that my efforts could benefit, but needed to stay autonomous so I could implement strategies without the hinderance of the BA's multi-tiered structure, he then agreed to completely support the venture.

Something to add to the backstory. He informed me that the BA had taken the summer off. I was perplexed that they would take the summer off when that is the key time to create community cohesion.

By the way. I've still heard nothing from the Harlem camp. I'm dissapointed, but not surprised. And waaaaaayyyy we go!

We just keep movin'. Much has happened since we've connected last. My video co-producer Wolfgang Busch hooked the team up with a gig as the official videographers for the James Davis Rally in Brooklyn, June 16th, 2003. It was an amazing march through Bed-Stuy to his block on the other side of Brooklyn, about a mile east of the Brooklyn Museum. It had many great moments.

One of the highlights for me was meeting the actor Ralph Carter. He played "Michael Evans" on the now legendary TV show (that showed the humor, pain and reality of what Black ghetto life was and is like) "Good Times". True to his child star character, he has become the very adult "Michael" would've. I even had a chance to have a conversation with his mom!

OK. Back to the point... I also made some connections with a few politicians that could, and I hope will be, extremely helpful. As you already know by the history of this log, I only hope and don't count on their assistance. As long as I don't set myself up for disappointment, there's a lesser chance that I'll be such.

On the home front, we are producing the neighborhood's first Community Celebration, Aug 30th, 12-noon to 8pm. (Soon there will be a link for you to see the flyer.) Councilman Charles Barron said that he'll attend to say some encouraging words. I hope he actually does because his speech at the rally was what this Bed-Stuy community, of a few thousand people, needs to hear. (There are more people who live on this single block than lived in the entire one square mile town I grew up in.)

Anyway, now we are seeing many different results of our actions. Most importantly, the kids as well as the elders are showing more appreciation for our presence and direct actions. I get a lot of "Yo Man's", "pounds", positive nods, and the overall sense that the community's behind this. Not everyone, but enough to acknowledge positive energy and forward momentum.

We're planning a host of community actions for fall 2003. We're going to need your blessings for the next couple of months. But even if things don't work the way we planned, the community will be better for seeing what a full-court-press, protracted community action looks like. I've still not discovered more info about the young man who killed himself.

OK. So burnout had arrived and rerred its ugly head. Firstly, the event went fine, with almost expectable setbacks. The councilman didn't show up-surprise. Then there was a woman who freaked over me playing excerpts from Malcolm X's "Ballot or the Bullet" speech. "I don't want to hear this shit." "This ain't fucking Sunday, people just want to chill." After these words from a sister that seemed as if she was a crack addict and got clean but still has no emotional coping mechanisms available, we changed the audio entertainment to the Isley Brothers. I've still yet to hear from any of the politico's that said they'd contact me.

This is of NO concern to me. After all that, I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. Then I started getting reactions from people about my overall community involvement. Between that and a few speeches I listened to in the interim, I began to refocus my efforts and change my strategies to suit what I perceive as the new terrain.

(A side note) I went to the "Million Youth March" which ocurred only blocks from where I'm currently typing. The turnout was nearly pitiful and the portion of aural presentations that reached my ears seemed to be heavily lacking in a mission. It was the equivilant of feeling sick, having a doctor look at you, exclaim you have a critical disease, tells you to have strength and that it's time for you to go.

We need a plan to get people involved and focused on DOING SOMETHING. To merely rant about how screwed up things are without taking a true leadership role and guiding peoples efforts toward some form of action is almost criminal. Not to mention, and I wish I didn't have to, there was someone from the New Black Panther Party who said, "We're not here to pin the tail on the Donkey. We're here to pin the tail on the--honky." At this point I left in disgust.
[click here for commentary from the original Black Panther Party]

To make the argument ONLY against White people only does the work of the ruling class. That work is to make sure the poor and disenfranchised Whites, and those of any other group, don't merge forces with Blacks, as stated in the U.S. Government's Counter Intelligence Program F.O.I.A. Papers. THAT would be the point of a TRUE revolution. Not one of violent take over, but one that lives up to the most fundamental ideals of a democracy. A Democracy that is "...for the people and by the people". I've only heard speeches from the NBPP a few times. On C-Span and then last week. I've yet to hear something that inspired me.

So back to the point of this log. My plan for early September was to go door-to-door passing out flyers that request peoples participation in community building. Due to last week's events, I decided to take a different tact. The garbage cans have now become part of the community. Used, ignored, appreciated, and treated indifferently - just like everything and everyone else in the community.

Once again, the overload of projects has become too much and the log has suffered. But, there are many things to tell you about.

On the local scene we've made a fair amount of progress. We've now had two block association meetings. Both have had a bizzare tone although progress is visible, if only because I and a few others are optimistic.

Here are the first meetings' minutes. They will give you a strong idea of what we're working with.
6:45pm First people arrive
7:08pm Darryl Hell - Conversation about the teenager shooting
7:11pm People arrive-brings total to 8
7:13pm Sign in
7:16pm Association president address
7:18pm Association vice president address
7:23pm Block party
7:27pm Darryl Hell / Doris McGill - discussion about meeting agenda
7:29pm Vice president rebuttal
7:33pm " " discusses the donation of food from member as a enticement for following meeting.
7:42pm Motion for christmas party (agreed)
7:44pm Motion to spend $30 for refreshments on next meeting (proposed by pres. & vice pres)(agreed)
7:46pm Previous motion debated (Discussion over expenditure.)
7:48pm Discussion for block party permit
7:53pm Discussion about date of following meeting
7:59pm New person "Rocky" introduction
8:01pm Discussion about block issues
8:06pm Planning board discussion
8:07pm Doris - community/police block watch (people agree we should have one)
8:09pm Pres. discusses bowing down and offers vice pres. as new assoc. pres.
8:10pm Birthday cards
8:15pm Closing prayer

I would like to preface my statements by saying my goal is to help the BA be more efficient and effective.

I feel there is far too little time being spent on those things which are the root problems in the community. Meaning that which is most visible to the majority of the people. I won't go into specifics now. But, I would like you to scan over the minutes to see how time could be better spent.

As you can see on the homepage, we are working with WBAI, and the Atlanta Library to make selections of Ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's informational archive available online. Click here for details.

From its conception in July 2003, to the confirmation on the Fung Wah bus to Boston, Halloween 2003, I'm continually elated by this project. Ms. McKinney is a quite exceptional person and we enjoy offering our assistance to her.

We' talk more about this later.

So, the cycle continues. The gap in reportage isn't representative of a gap in action. It's been a few action packed months since we've last talked. But they've been very emotionally draining months.

The meetings had stopped in November and to date have not resumed. I've tried to get the Block Association in gear and they seem more determined to do nothing. I was talking to one of the elders a few days ago. He told me to keep it up...and that people will either support you or curse your efforts. That rocked me for a moment, but I've been in a delirious overdrive that keeps me less reactionary, which is probably good in this situation.

If you were to refer back to the last BA meeting minutes, you'd see there was a substantial time expenditure on parties, events, and things outside the necessities of the community.

It seems that some of them are mad at me for wanting to do anything. Seemingly by requesting to be of assistance, that was considered a power move. I never wanted to be in charge. I just want to help. I'm forced into the role of leader because I have no organization, in the community, to turn to that are attempting to address similar issues. As a matter of fact, there is no effective body that is dealing with anything as far as Ihave been told or have seen. The only uprisings I've seen have been over the Timothy Stansbury shooting. Just one more community tragedy, which only hardens already tear-stained hearts.

On January 24th 2004, ahousing cop killed an unarmed 19-year-old high school student on the roof of a Brooklyn housing project yesterday in what the police commissioner called an unjustified shooting.

A veteran officer on routine roof patrol at the Louis Armstrong Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant shot Timothy Stansbury Jr. once at the top of a staircase leading to the roof of 385 Lexington Ave. shortly before 1 a.m., Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. - New York Daily News

Another unprovoked fatal police shooting in New York City has left a working class family grief-stricken and millions of city residents appalled.

The latest victim is Timothy Stansbury, Jr., a 19-year-old, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School who also worked full time, earning the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour on the 3-10 p.m. shift at a McDonald’s restaurant near his home. He lived in the Louis Armstrong Houses, a public housing project in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. - World Socialist Web Site

Before we could settle into the reality of another death in the community, there was this;

2-year-old in father's lap shot dead in car
Sabrina Tavernise and Andy Newman
New York Times News Service
Apr. 1, 2004 08:45 AM

NEW YORK - Gunmen unleashed a spray of bullets into a parked car with two adults and three children in it on a Brooklyn street on Wednesday, killing a 2-year-old boy.

The father was holding the boy, Dmoni Spruill, when they were shot. The father and another man, both in their 20s, were seriously wounded, and a 14-month-old girl suffered minor injuries. A 5-year-old boy was unharmed.

There has been increasing amounts of gunfire. Usually echoing around, but I think it's coming from near the park. The park is across the street from the local police precinct...by the way.

The cans. The cans ARE A CLEAR SUCCESS! On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, I came home early that morning to find two brand new CITY PROVIDED AND MAINTAINED garbage cans. They were placed in a nice target area.

I switched the location of the two remaining cans. Setting the trepidations over reiterating myself aside, one of our garbage cans was stolen, removed or whatever. One day I came home to see the garbage can, chain and lock gone.

After relocating the cans, I put brand new signs up. They lasted less than 14 days. Only one of the two signs exist. But the goal of the signs was to be a sort of Jedi-mindtrick to stop vandelism of the cans. In that sense it's worked. They haven't bothered the cans and they have been consistantly used. By the way, we have 3' x 4' posters in the laundraumat directly across the street. And they can't mess with those. :)-

Another great piece of news is that we are getting a good deal of respect from the community this year. Let's see if that translates into assisting with the movement. We can only work and hope.

We will be formally announcing the details of our spring 2004 initiatives really soon. For now here's the skinny.

- African-American Civil War Memorial greenspace program
- Educational Community Kiosks
- Impact Unit CD Library
- More CM Files

Until we meet again...

More gunfire tonight. It seems that gunfire comes out of nowhere, and then no sirens or ambulances. There was another Timothy Stansbury Jr. rally yesterday. But the amount of community information that goes out is extremely minute. We're trying to create more information hubs to enhance community awareness of the actions people are doing in the community.

We met with some of the founding members of the Bedford Ave. 931 community garden. Formal garden / greenspace name TBA. They seem really cool and quite happy to have another comrade in the battle to help the community to become more of a community. They are also interested in alternative strategies of getting information about the space into the community.

Our twist of the idea of a civil war memorial seems to sometimes perplex people. I'll see if I could be a bit more clear.
What we are attempting to create is a memorial space dedicated to the lives that have been lost due to the war the Black America has waged against itself inside the US, 1960 to present. We see this as another living continuation of James Davis' "Love Yourself" Stop the Violence campaign. We are also in complete support of the Ella Baker Center "Books not Bombs" campaign being launched in California, April 28th 2004.

It will also feature a web component that will present a multitudinous amount of information about the evolution of the Bed-Stuy region, the effect people like Robert Moses had on its formation, community merchant information, community activities calendar, and more.
Click here for more info.

History is our best teacher.
Apathy = Death

The escalating gunfire should be a wake-up call to the neighborhood. I feel it's getting worse. Without a major shift in the current collective community apathy, we may return to the wild west of the 80's and early 90's the elders have been telling me about. The only change is the amount of buildings being renovated and streets being paved. I feel the violence will be met with more extreme force from the city, which translates into mass arrest sweeps, evicting more community natives as buildings are bought and finally the majority of the community natives being priced out completely. (Another gunshot echoes in the distance.) We are not against community enhancement and growth. We ARE against the natives not benefitting from their community's enhancement and growth. This pattern of gentrification follows the ongoing NYC model of Harlem, the Village, Chelsea, Tribecca, and so on and so on.

As always, there's more to talk about than I'm willing to type, or possibly you're willing to read. :)- I guess I'll talk about the hits we've taken and then move on to the good stuff.

The African-American Civil War Memorial concept has to be put on hold. After nearly two months of communications with the Bedford Ave. 931 community garden committee, which were all positive, I received this letter.

well, the vote went against the proposal, though the course of conversation went in favor of working with you on a design, one more site specific, especially in light of the fact mentioned by Lola that a house a few doors down was owned by Harriet Tubman, and also in favor of working on an event or project for Juneteenth, as well as leaving that space open for a memorial or art project. We all were inspired by your presentation and the discussion, feeling it was enormously beneficial to have your
energy and ideas in the garden.
We all hope you will continue to work with us, in any capacity, and also to discuss a project. John also wanted to get in touch with you about the possibilities of working with some of NYRP's other Brooklyn gardens. If you do still feel like working with us, we'd love to meet again, and we'll keep you updated on when the next meeting is and etc.

My main contact there is REALLY cool. I have less confidence in the org as a whole. If you didn't see the proposal for the memorial concept click here.

The sad thing is after months I was informed that only a few doors down from the park there is a home that was owned by none other than Harriet Tubman! They seemed to want something a little more subtle. I created a design that couldn't be ignored and would provoke a conversation or thought from anyone who saw it. Though they would like to work more with us, I know I only have a modicum of time and that can't be spent trying to get people to agree to try something new. Anyone who's been following this log knows that every time I've fought with Bed-Stuy community orgs, they've ALWAYS said my ideas were wrong...although in the end, we were right and they were wrong. Who knows if I was wrong in this case. I don't see any downside to the design in respect to its being located in the greenspace. I did not hear, and was not offered, a clear rebuttal to justify watering the design down to the point of being ineffective.

Also after a year all the street signs we posted are down. People began ripping them down and vandalizing them. What they don't know is, the signs had three purposes; (1) inform people who put them in (2) give the community a sense of ownership (3) AND to hopefully draw peoples attention away from destroying the garbage cans. Well, THAT WORKED.

Now we have two new cans from the city (finally) and our cans are being used in the problem area in from of the projects, without problem. Hence, the cans worked and possibly prompted the city to do it's job, since there hadn't been city managed cans for years.

On to the good stuff. On May 11th while taking a walk, I ran into a few sisters from the nearly defunct block association. To my amazement, they informed me that they wanted to get things going for the summer. They told me that my heated argument at the last meeting was a pivotal point and they'd been discussing it over the winter. My blowup was over the shooting death of the 13 year old girl who was shot and the amount of time spent discussing irrelevant issues at the meeting. If that wasn't enough I was told that one of them wanted to become the BA president! I informed them that I thought it was time for a change and also that a female president would be more effective as we move forward. The women are stepping up, while the men are mostly give lip service.

We are on schedule for our Bed-Stuy community kiosk initiative, which will launch on Juneteenth 04. (June 19th 2004)

As for the greenspace concept, there is an unused greenspace across the street from our homebase. I'm going to find out what's going on with that and see if we can do something with it.

That's it for now...but I'll be b(L)ack!

Here we go. Things are all over the map. Though I'm a little behind schedule, we are still locked in to install the computer kiosks by Juneteenth. A new development; Cynthia McKinney has asked me to be the lead Internet strategist for her campaign! We'll see where that goes, but as of now I'm really optimistic. My enthusiasm is high though I find myself to be increasingly on guard.

Tonight I had a long talk with one of my friends from the WABC-TV news department. I needed feedback to understand why the elders in the Black community repeatedly state that EVERYONE needs to step up to the plate. I've been at bat now too many times to count and all I've gotten was pushed out. It seems they feel threatened when someone comes in with ideas, which are complimentary to their own but uses strategies and resources in a way they haven't thought of.

The Black communities of Bed-Stuy, East New York and Harlem need to take a long, hard structural look at the Jewish communities of Brooklyn. What they will find is a network of people who seemingly let no internal community resource be wasted or neglected. They take pride in nurturing their youth, instead of blocking them out.

I hope that working with Cynthia will help our efforts in the community. I also hope it helps add to my value with Like It Is. I've been talking to Gil Nobel since October 2003 and have yet to have a face to face meeting, although we talk regularly on the phone. If I could have one elder take me under their wing, I know that I would make them and the community proud. I believe Gil is the perfect fit. He's a no bullcrap type person, with tons of respect to spare. The problem is there is no current strategy in place to push him beyond the confines of WABC-TV and the analog world. L.I.I has no new media presence and could leave people 20 years from now having no idea what Like It Is meant to the community or who Gil Nobel was.

I'm sick of honoring our soldiers when they're dead. Why can't we do that when they are alive? Furthermore, will they allow us to be more than "the audience," and take the next step of mentoring movitated people, like myself, into savvy and seasoned community-minded soldiers for our continual battle for TRUE equality?

Without HONEST elder support, I'm not sure whether I'll be able to be as effective as I could be or have the motivation that can take my work deep into the future. The only thing I can say is...we'll see.

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