Monday, September 8, 2008

NEIGHBOR SKETCH: Ashanti Baptiste
(Excerpts from a longer interview)

I’m 29 yrs old and I’ve lived on St Felix Street the last 24 years in a small Section 8 apartment building.

Where do you go in Fort Greene for recreation? I guess me and my friends really don’t use the neighborhood. When I was young, we use to have Big Apple games at Brooklyn Tech, but they stopped those after school programs. I worked in BAM as an usher and saw a lot of operas and different shows from different countries, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It sounds sad, but where we’re always at is on the block, in a friend’s house, or in the parks at the basketball courts. You have your neighborhood barbershops like Mr. James shop on Greene, On Point on Hanson, and Changing Faces on Fulton, and just like in the movie BARBERSHOP men go there to hang. But beyond that, I’m stuck. I know people and I’ve been places, but there’s nowhere in Fort Greene I could really attach to now, that expresses us.

What place are you curious to see in Fort Greene? I want to see Steiner Studios, where the big movies is made. SPIDERMAN was made in the neighborhood! How come we couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch? I took a Brooklyn Young Filmmakers class that got me thinking more about what goes into making films. Then I helped out as an extra and a production assistant on BACK STREETS, the film Brooklyn Young Filmmakers executive produced. That was a great thing.

What’s the difference’s between the two sides of Fort Greene Park? The project side is the forgotten side. It’s like no one’s dealing with that side cause it’s seen as all negative – drugs, guns, gangs, violence – and that’s all people see it as. The Fulton/Dekalb side, the side I live on, is part of the big busy boom. We call it “Las Vegas” Brooklyn. But the people on this side are more out of touch. There are not too many Brooklynites here anymore. Now you have a lot of strangers on the block and nobody speaks.

What do you feel about all the development going on? It’s like somebody’s coming into your home where you lived all your life, where your grandparents lived. That somebody says, “Stand aside. We taking over, and you’re now irrelevant.” I’ve lived here 22 years and they think I’m a trespasser and potentially violent.

Why are you helping with the Fort Greene Information Exchange project? I’m a community activist. I’ve worked with James E. Davis and Kevin Powell. And now I’m helping out with FGInfoX project because it is the bridge to what I have dreamed. I’ve wanted to have a big loud speaker that could reach the whole tri-state area, or at least Brooklyn to start. Maybe someone will read a Neighbor Sketch and then see someone they read about in the neighborhood and the person won’t seem a stranger. Maybe one of these new people sees my profile and they’ll speak to me, and I to them.

What is your dream job? Music. I’m a hip hop artist and songwriter. As an artist I am upset with what the music industry is now and how musicians are portrayed. I’m upset with the people who say they are rappers and just write “rap-crap-nig’-rhyme”.
What’s the most important thing that’s happen to you so far this year? The verdict on the Sean Bell case. As a black man it makes me feel as if my life is a dog’s life. Like I’m worth spit or a crumb. I – we – are way more than that. Way more.

ASHANTI’S FAVORITES: Song: “Long Time Coming” by Sam Cook / Movie: ALIENS VS PREDATOR / TV Program: 24 / Book: “Angels & Demons” (graphic novel) / Magazine: XXL & Popular Science / Food: Hot Wings / Game: Play Station / Superhero: Spawn / Article of Clothing: Military Shirt / Colors: Green, Blue & Grey

Click for full interview.

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