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Bedford-Stuyvesant

BS intro

 

Remember that Billy Joel song from 1980, ‘You may be right, I may be crazy’? To illustrate his being a “lunatic” he sang that he was so crazy he even “walked through Bedford Stuy alone”.

Well, that was over 30 years ago so I assumed, as Coco and I set out to have our own walk around the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant – or Bed-Stuy – that things had changed.

My assumption was correct. It’s no longer ‘do or die Bed-Stuy’, famous for crack and crime, but an ‘up and coming’ area attracting a middle class who like the strong community feel – and no doubt the fact that you can rent or buy a beautiful old brownstone here for way less than neighbouring Park Slope.

Before we wander, a quick history… Started out as the village of Bedford, meaning “place where the wise old men meet”. Expanded to include an area called Stuyvesant Heights and the two joined to become Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the 1900s African-Americans migrated here from the South followed by West African and Caribbean immigrants. Long been a centre of black culture – music, art and film (Spike Lee shot various flicks here, including ‘Do the Right Thing’) as well as being active in fighting for equal rights.

Let’s walk…

 

Part 1: Place of artists and where old men meet

Bed-Stuy may not be as dodgy as it once was but apparently it still isn’t all roses; a 2011 article I read proclaimed that the area still had a highish murder rate and a bad drug trafficking problem. “Best”, it said, “to avoid wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood.”

But aimlessly wander we did. Not down the street a kindly shop owner told us to “steer clear of” – the one with the temporary police tower on the side of the road. But everywhere else across the sprawling neighbourhood.

Didn’t set eyes on a single murderer or drug trafficker. Instead we met perhaps the friendliest community of people we’ve met so far in NY. From singers and wanabee singers to old men chewing the fat…

 

 

'my name is Popula, I'm a rap artist'

‘my name is Popula, I’m a rap artist’

 

 

 

 

soon Popula was so popular they came running to see him from all over the planet

soon Popula was so popular they came running to see him from all over the planet

 

 

 

 

singer Jon E Kash - "my religion? love"

singer Jon E Kash – “my religion? love”

 

 

 

 

in good company - visual artist, Jeyfree

in good company – visual artist, Jeyfree

 

 

 

 

wanabee artist, Princess - 'I want to be a dancer, actress and singer'

wanabee artist, Princess – ‘I want to be a dancer, actress and singer’

 

 

 

 

'place where the wise old men meet'

‘place where the wise old men meet’

 

 

 

 

chewing the fat, kerbside - Eddie's Oldsmobile

chewing the fat, kerbside – Eddie’s Oldsmobile

 

 

 

 

the cap brigade - Henry, Eddie, Jeff and friends

the cap brigade – Henry, Eddie, Jeff and friends

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Equal, sort of

On one of our visits to Bed-Stuy we stumbled on a family birthday party for nine year old Arkeen. While Coco busied herself in a game with some of the girls I got chatting to one of the mums, Sa’uda – and somehow we started talking about the issue of racism.

Her grand-mother, who was inside the house with the other family members, had come to the neighbourhood in 1963 as part of the ‘Great Migration’ from South Carolina to escape the segregation and racism down there.

So did racism still exist, almost 50 years later and in enlightened NYC, I asked Sa’uda?

Sa’uda, who works in mental health, told me about the recent case of a 12 year old African-American boy who was innocently mucking around in a junk yard when he was shoved against a wall, hand-cuffed and taken into custody. There were no charges but as a result of the trauma he ended up in a psych unit for a few weeks. He’s only just started to be able to go outside again and still he can’t look at a police officer without breaking into a sweat.

In the South, Sa’uda explained, the segregation is obvious. In NY, it’s not – but yes, it still exists. She told me that mums of black boys have to educate their sons at a fairly young age about the way things are – that they have to behave in a certain way to protect themselves against the racism as best they can.

The congregation from the Seventh Day Adventist Church we met when we explored Crown Heights had all said similar things. But still it shocked me – yes, in the South I’d expect it but in NYC in 2012?

But things were improving, Sa’uda said. Nowadays most of the kids have good self-esteem and question the way things are rather than just accept.

 

 

cousins - Arkeen's birthday party

cousins – Arkeen’s birthday party

 

 

 

 

sadly for kids like Amir, 49 years later it's still a dream

sadly for kids like Khayr, 49 years later it’s still a dream

 

 

 

 

being black and white in Bed Stuy - activisim vs renovation

being black and white in Bed Stuy – activism vs renovation

 

 

 

 

there are unequl suspenstion rates in schools- 'racism still exists'

there are unequal suspension rates in schools- ‘racism still exists’

 

 

 

 

he ever have true freedom?

will he ever have true freedom?

 

 

 

 

Sa’uda struck me as hope personified. She grew up in hard-core East New York, not far from Bed-Stuy. But she took herself off to college on the Upper East Side, a place that many living in her neighbourhood at the time didn’t even know existed. Now she is passing on her positive attitudes to her own children as well as helping kids like the 12 year old – surely with every generation things will improve?

 

 

 

hope

hope

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Cooking up a storm

Walking along Nostrand Avenue, one of the main streets in Bed-Stuy, we stumbled on a new cafe called Paris Dakar specialising in French crepes. Inside was Thierno, the owner and crepe chef. A quiet man, I only learned his story when his friendly assistant told us… Thierno arrived from Senegal 15 years ago speaking not one word of English. Just two months ago he opened his own cafe and it’s going gang-busters. He supports his immediate family who live here as well as his extended family back home – his mum, aunties etc. – and has done so ever since he arrived in NY. The American Dream come true?

 

 

Thierno, an angel to his family

Thierno, an angel to his family

 

 

 

 

working his way towards the American Dream, one crepe at a time

working his way towards the American Dream, one crepe at a time

 

 

 

 

On another visit we came across a very different scenario, but one that still involved food and commerce. Khem, originally from Jamaica, was smoking out half of Bed-Stuy with his jerk chicken that he sells for $15 a pop. But his neighbours didn’t mind one bit – because Khem’s jerk chicken is worth being smoked out for. I say this with certainty because he gave us a taste of his famous chook – damn fine.

The secret? The Pimento wood he uses to smoke the chicken that comes all the way from Jamaica, and of course his special, secret, magical ‘rub’ – the marinade.

 

 

just follow your nose to Khem's place

just follow your nose to Khem’s place

 

 

 

 

working his magic - Khem, the king of jerk chicken

working his magic – Khem and his cauldron of delight

 

 

 

 

'the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer' :: 1

‘the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer’ :: 1

 

 

 

 

'the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer' :: 2

‘the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer’ :: 2

 

 

 

 

From what I could gather Khem cooks sporadically. But he doesn’t need to tell his neighbours when his chickens are available – the smells wafting over the airwaves do that just fine. They come a-runnin’.

 

 

'my kids love Khem's chicken'- longtime fan and neighbour, Sandy

‘my kids love Khem’s chicken’- longtime fan and neighbour, Sandy

 

 

 

 

the hand of god

the hand of god

 

 

 

 

BBQs are clearly the go in Bed-Stuy. On another visit we met fellow BBQ-er, Kevin, whipping up some fish for he and his wife, Georgette, who was due home from work any time. There was so much fish on the grill I thought perhaps he was also running a side business like Khem, but no, they were just for he and his wife – “She’s a big eater”.

 

 

'that's a lot of fish for two people' - 'it's my wife, she eats a lot' - Kevin cooking for Georgette

‘that’s a lot of fish for two people’ – ‘it’s my wife, she eats a lot’

 

 

 

 

fish for dinner

smokin’

 

 

 

 

Georgette turned up while Kevin and I were chatting. Another incredibly friendly, warm Bed-Stuyer.

 

 

'So Georgette, what's the secret to happiness?' - 'think positive'

‘So Georgette, what’s the secret to happiness?’ – ‘think positive’

 

 

 

 

 Part 4: Sunday in Bed-Stuy

Which means one thing – church.

We stuck our heads into the loudest one going – Mount Sinai Cathedral, a Pentecostal church of God in Christ. AKA, loud and lively. I wasn’t allowed to photograph inside but the place was jumping with a full blown band going all out and people dancing behind their pews. I loved the atmosphere but Coco could only stand it for a minute – “Mum, I’m going outside, it’s a bit too loud and crazy for me.”

When I came back out I noticed one of the ushers, who help people to their seats, looking through the main doors. It was Flossie, a dedicated church member who first visited the church at 25 and is still there 50 years later. When I asked her, does her faith ever waiver, she replied, “Well, when I was younger it did but not anymore. Men don’t always treat you right but the Lord does, always.”

 

 

Flossie

Flossie

 

 

 

 

'men will let you down but the Lord will look after you, always'

‘men will let you down but the Lord will look after you, always’

 

 

 

 

Flossie outside her beloved church

Flossie outside her beloved church

 

 

 

 

We left Flossie to her faith and wandered around to see who else we could find.

 

 

the Americanisation of Africans as told by hats - from traditional to westernised

the Americanisation of Africans as told by hats – from traditional to westernised

 

 

 

 

and I pray that those women don't fall off their shoes

and I pray that those women don’t fall off their shoes

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

To be honest I was keen to explore Bed-Stuy because I’d heard that it had a lovely stock of beautiful brownstones in the section called the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District. But instead of just finding some nice old buildings I found the most amazing community. I swear everyone we walked past – black, white, young, old, professional, working class – they all said hi and smiled. If I had questions, they happily stopped to answer them.

Life may still not be perfect in Bed-Stuy, maybe far from it, but whatever happens they’re all in it together.

 

 

 

two 9 year old Cancerians who both love to dance - Coco and Princess

two 9 year old Cancerians who both love to dance – Coco and Princess

 

 

On the ‘home front’

My head has been swirling this week. I realised as much as I love NY, it’s not going to last us until the end of the project, which is another 18 installments (18!). But where to go? It does depend on budget but I’m thinking a few more North American cities (Chicago, Memphis, Miami) and maybe somewhere in South America (Mexico City or Buenos Aires). I’ve even put Tokyo or Osaka back on the table, having moved on a little from my former worries about the radiation threat.

Anything jump out at you? I was also thinking Hawaii – because all most people know about the place is that it has nice beaches. But then maybe that is all it has…

Anyway, at the same time as all that travelling around the place in my head, Coco and I have had to up sticks a few times this week, leaving our West Village apartment to stay with our lovely friend Chris on the Upper West Side via his gorgeous family in Brooklyn. We need to rest our heads in one place for at least a fortnight before we shuffle off again.

This suburb has been brought to you by Nicole Lenord and Derek Leddie

 —

See you next week.

 

  1. TRENT COLLINS says:

    Love the last photo with Coco and Princess- looks like she is still having an amazing time.

  2. Simon Food Favourites says:

    I can almost smell that BBQ chicken back in Sydney :-)

  3. Mimi says:

    Amazing pictures from the area!!!

    I seriously love Kyoto, it would be awesome if you can get there! I think you can’t go wrong with south america!

  4. Dave Markham says:

    You photos really capture the tempo of life in this area of New York and I found them fascinating. I intend to go to NYC next year as I have not been there since January, 1981.

  5. Fay Thomson says:

    Most of all I enjoyed the wall art. So good to see none of that scribbly graffiti.

  6. Joss says:

    I absolutely recommend Hawaii. Spent a month there recently which gave me time to poke around the small towns off the tourist path. A real melting pot of cultures, and it’s a shame most Aussie’s don’t make it past Waikiki Beach or the glamour resorts of Maui.

  7. Ros says:

    Swing by to San Francisco! You would love the Mission and I’d be more than happy to show you where you can get good coffee and better burritos :D

  8. Brent Wilson says:

    The images of Flossie are iconic. Great post Louise and Coco is growing up in front of our eyes she is looking a bit older and wiser maybe that is the one of the ‘side effects’ of travel.

  9. Margo says:

    Canada is not that far away, Montreal or perhaps Toronto which is a multi cultural city with lots of gritty neighbourhoods. Any where you go I know I will enjoy reading about it and your amazing photography.
    Thank you for sharing and taking us along for the ride.

  10. Peter says:

    Another great rap on a part of New York I didn’t know existed. I would suggest you visit Chicago next. Spent a few days there last year, and found it to be a great city. Quite diverse once you get out to the suburbs. Thank you for sharing your amazing adventure.

  11. Janie says:

    Another amazing insight into a different world. Why not visit Seattle – I’ve heard it’s a lot like Sydney (except for the weather) and is well off the tourist trail for most Aussies. Then I think you both deserve to just flop in Hawaii on your way home.

  12. Ruth says:

    We visited The Big Island of Hawaii in January. I can totally see you finding quirky stuff to do and see there! Cheap tix from Seattle on Hawaiian Airlines via Honolulu. Love your world-ly stories. Thank you both for being out there and telling it like it is for us.

  13. Tatyana says:

    One more beautiful post, Louise. Have to agree with Brent – Coco is growing up so fast! The picture of her & Princess is priceless. As for further directions… You’ve been to so many exotic burbs on different continents so another change (for South America) sounds like a great finale. Plus, it’s still budget for a traveler. Would love to see colonial architecture through your eyes! But whatever you, girls, choose – take good care & enjoy every single day of your journey.
    P.S. Inspired by you I booked my tickets to Sydney lately. I’m going there to photograph! Yay! Thank you Louise.

  14. Duke says:

    “just follow your nose to Khem’s place”…. something about this photo grabbed me. Then the subsequent photos had me hooked. I’m hungry…. and I can smell that BBQ all the way over here in Australia.

    Still my favourite blog. Thanks Louise

  15. Peggy says:

    Lovely post! I was in NYC for almost a year and never made it down to Bed-Stuy – my loss, clearly! Time to go back and make good.

    If you’re casting around for suggestions on where to go next, Buenos Aires has my vote. The people, the tango, the barrios, the history – La Reina del Plata is a queen amongst cities! I stayed at Giorgio’s House, highly recommend – it’s like having your own house again, and Anastasia is a wonderful hostess! xx

  16. Amy says:

    Oh Mexico City would be fantastic. Hawaii also sounds great.

    Love your photos :)

  17. Innes Welbourne says:

    How about Montreal, Quebec? You’re not far and there’s a very interesting mix of French, English and several other cultures at play there that you won’t find elsewhere. Go before it gets too cold.

  18. Gail says:

    Hi Louise, I agree with Ros, San Francisco is definitely worth a look, especially the Mission district with its amazing murals. Would be great if you could get to Japan. Some beautiful cities like Kanazawa.

  19. ellen says:

    my top three coz well im thinking u got three months left of this right would be chicago mum has allwasy hated it there layovers and stuff but pics ive seen form charge firends it looks gorgous so id love to see yoru take orlando went there last year or miami would do see if theres anything besides disney and universal but for that you could do la LOL and of course id have to say hawaii mums cous has been to hawaii heaps she loves it there but what does she love the beaches or what LOL

  20. ellen says:

    and great post its sad to think there is still racism and hatetred in this world but there is

  21. Whispering Gums says:

    Loved Jon E Kash! Loved the food – and the barbecues in the front of their houses. Great story.

    We went to Japan less than two months after the Tsunami and had a great time … that was spring, but we’ve been twice in autumn. I’d seriously consider it. Kyoto is great and so is Kanazawa … it’s a wonderful city.

    As for the US, I’m not sure where you’ve been but New Mexico – particularly Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos – is pretty special.

  22. Charlotte says:

    Bogota, Colombia?

  23. Louise says:

    Dear all – So glad you enjoyed our walk through Bed-Stuy – and thanks so much for the feedback on my short-list destinations as well as the new suggestions. I’m going to add them to the mix and will let you know what falls out…

  24. Reemski says:

    That couple of pictures of the beaming and radiant Khayr are just amazing. What a gorgeous and proud young man

  25. Sa'uda says:

    This is great! The Bed-Stuy section captured the essence of the culture of the neighborhood. Also, my family looks awesome :-)….shout out to my nephew Khayr (grey Bed-Stuy t-shirt)! It was great chatting with you Louise. All the best to you and Coco during your travels.

  26. Sa'uda says:

    Since everyone is putting in their suggestions, I’ll add mine :-). If you have the opportunity, visit the southern part of the U.S. Its so different from NYC. I’m partial to South Carolina because my family hails from there (Bennettsville to be exact). However, 10 years ago I chaperoned a trip to various cities in the south and two stood out the most to me…Selma, Alabama (some call it the birthplace for the Voting Rights Act of 1965) and Memphis, Tennessee (has an amazing Civil Rights Museum located in the former Lorraine Motel which is where Dr. King was assassinated…..that place is fascinating!)

  27. Kathy says:

    Considering your budget, I can highly recommend Boston (there are really cheap fares NYC-Boston by bus). It’s less American and more European and really beautiful. And don’t miss Montreal, Quebec (easy to reach from Boston by bus as well and a bargain). The mixture of English and French, not only in language but also in architecture, clothes, the way of living..October is still beautiful – Indian Summer and maybe at the end a bit of snow.

    I’m sure you’ll find great places to go and take as always amazing photos, wherever you’re heading next.

    Enjoy your travel!

  28. Joel says:

    Saw you in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning – congrats. =)

    As I posted before you started this trip (what, eight months ago, is it?) that I’d dearly love to see your take on Tokyo. I’ve been reading the blog since then (though not exactly religiously), and it’s been as fascinating as I expected, but to be perfectly honest, nothing’s really gripped me as much as Tokyo did when I was there two years ago. It’s not terribly hard to get off the beaten track there – it’s only about a hundred metres wide – and I could easily suggest a dozen suburbs worth visiting just off the top of my head. =)

    • Louise says:

      Joel – Tokyo would blow the budget but… I’m curious, what exactly did you love about it so much? I know loads of people do. And sure, please sling me those suburb suggestions so I can do a little research…

  29. Sarah says:

    Yay, lovely post! Can’t begin to list what I love, but I liked the lady who said that Jesus/God always treats her right!
    As to where next – I support Canada (Montreal or Quebec), as well as Chicago. Neither should cost you too much (I hope!). But these are places I’ve been – so if you were to help me see more of the world, and learn more, I’d say Brazil or somewhere else in Sth America. Even Cuba (though you’d need to head to Mexico or Canada to make it there). Will read no matter where you go, even if you stayed in NYC!

  30. Katie says:

    I’m with Peggy: Buenos Aires. And if you manage to get here within 2 weeks, you’re invited to my wedding to a Porteño but we’re doing it gaucho style! I’m from Bondi, Sydney and have been living here since Feb last year. Some 25 overseas guests are coming and plus the rest of the party, it’s going to be FULL ON!!! In fact, I already haven’t been sleeping much… In any case, I have a local journalist contact if ever you need one. I will be here until January when the long sojourn ends and work calls me back!
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    • Louise says:

      Katie – Oh I’d love to come to your wedding, sounds like it’s going to be big! But if we do come to BA I was thinking later in the year – will contact you anyway if we head down there.

  31. Lisette says:

    Love the post! Once again, lovely shots of people and street art. The photos of Flossie moved me very much – she has deeply sad eyes! And the photo of Coco and Princess, such attitude those two!

    As for destinations I would recommend, go for San Francisco! Many fabulous neighborhoods to chose from (you’ll be spoiled for choice!) and the weather at this time of year is the best they have. Food is great too, always a bonus. Plus it would mean you showcase two emblematic cities of the US, one on each coast.

    Hawaii is not a bad option either – there is certainly much more to it than just gorgeous beaches!!

    Let me know if you do chose to go to either of these places – I have family and friends there who might be able to lend you a hand…

  32. Jo says:

    I have just returned from 10 weeks in Indonesia so would love to see it represented here. It was the people I met, mostly on Sulawesi, that made it so enjoyable. I didn’t get there but Jogjakarta is said to be a place worth visiting, unlike Jakarta!

  33. Catharine says:

    AMAZING photos this week. This is one of my favorites so far. :) I agree with the above commenter. Indonesia is amazing. I’m Indonesian and, while I haven’t personally been there, I’ve heard Yogya is amazing too. But anywhere in Indonesia is good. (But quietly, I would avoid Jakarta too.)

  34. marjan says:

    Beautiful and sad post – still a long way to go before all kids/adults have an equal chance at a fair and good life, but we all have to keep believing in it and fighting for it. Important question only you can answer: do you and Coco have the emotional energy for yet another continent/language/culture etc?

    • Louise says:

      Marjan – Yeah, seeing the gorgeous spirited black kids in NY – knowing they aren’t necessarily on an equal footing with their white peers – reminds me of the Aboriginal kids in Australia. Well, all kids really who must learn at some point that the colour of their skin and their ethnicity will play a major role in their lives, like it or not.

  35. Peter McConnochie says:

    Beautiful post – so much to enjoy in this burn!
    18 to go – excellent….I’d love you to go to HI, I spent some time in Kona on the Big Island in the 90’3 and adore it……I’d love to see how it has changed! Then again I’d love whatever places you choose to go to!

    Thanks as always!

  36. Mary says:

    Louise – you are the most extraordinary observer of life in all its forms. Your eye for detail, colour and shapes – as well as the true beauty in all faces – is unsurpassed. Thank you for making my day every time you post.

    PS I LOVE Jon E Kash and Flossie!

    • Louise says:

      Mary – You made my day with this! And I love those two too – especially Flossie with her sad, sweet eyes.

  37. Rob Steer says:

    Gorgeous, colourful, summery pics that tell a stroy of community, warmth and people trying their best to lead good productive lives. Very inspiring indeed!

  38. Elizabeth says:

    Chicago would be excellent and fit well into the general theme with lots of variety to explore. Some place a little more off the beaten path for foreign visitors like Baltimore, Minneapolis (thought it’d be getting cold), or Portland, Oregon would be fun and interesting.

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