Friday, September 5, 2008

(Excerpts from a longer interview)

I’m 35 years old. I ‘ve lived in Fort Greene since 2001 and on S. Elliot since 2003. Before Brooklyn, I lived in Bridgewood Queens for 5 years. I grew up in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx, where it’s very suburban. Pelham Park is the biggest park in New York City, bigger than Central Park, and it has Orchard Beach, so there was a lot of cool stuff to do in nature growing up there.

What’s your family background?
I’m half Italian and half Irish. The neighborhood I grew up in though was very old school Italian – sort of a Bensonhurst vibe. I didn’t exactly fit in.

What’s the difference between Brooklyn and the other boroughs?
There’s a very diverse mix of people here, which is very important. There are issues between groups, but I think Fort Greene does a better job of attempting to bridge those gaps than most places I’ve been. It helps that artistic people have been the base of this neighborhood for a long time.

Can you give a bit of Fort Greene history?
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has scanned all their back issues and they’re online. Walt Whitman wrote for the paper in the 1800s. A fascinating thing about that time is the class differences. The brownstones around here were built for middle-class people back then - right alongside a huge shanty town called “Young Dublin”, which was northeast side of the park – this was before the park existed. A lot more about this period – which reflects some of the same issues of gentrification that are going on in Fort Greene today – can be found in this great article by Carl Hancock Rux:

Where do you go for recreation in Fort Greene?
Mainly Fort Greene Park. I work for the Parks Department and you can find out about events at . I’m a huge walker. I’ve walked to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. If I could get past the crazy security, I would love to check out Steiner Studios sometime.

Have you walked through public housing?
Not through the courtyards, but I have walked on streets like Ashland that go through public housing. The projects need a lot more attention, both from the neighborhood and our elected officials. I’m not a fan of the city planning ideas that resulted in projects like Walt Whitman, Ingersol, and Farragut being so isolated from the surrounding areas. You don’t segregate people of a certain income level in one building and then put people of a high income level way over there. You cut them off from each other totally. It’s one thing to say the prior city planning was bad. Now it seems like the city’s not doing anything. They’re letting the developers build very expensive buildings across the street from the projects. To do that they tore down the only supermarket and pharmacy in the area. They increased the isolation of the projects so much it’s ridiculous. I think this project, the Fort Greene Information X-Change, recognizes one of the primary changes that needs to take place here – better communication amongst all residents. I hope this project can help show the good side of new people coming into the neighborhood.

What important person would you like to spend an hour with?
I think it would be pretty cool if I could go back in time and spend an hour with Richard Wright when he was writing Native Son in Fort Greene Park.

As my interview with Tom was wrapping, Ashanti Baptiste came in and we got into a 3-way dialogue about hip-hop – Trayce Gardner

Tom: My favorite era of hip hop was from 1991 to 1996. Anything that was produced in that era, from groups that had one song, like Zhigge, to big groups like A Tribe Called Quest that put out four or five albums. The way I look at more recent hip hop is sort of the "Laffy Taffy" era. The music is less layered. At the same time it seems to me the respect for the lyricist has decreased. Now you can say things really simply – sing song, like nursery rhyme delivery. And what's being said is often about selling drugs and degenerating women

ASHANTI: White and Asians respect the hip hop culture more than us Blacks and Hispanics. I’m been to their parties and they mostly listen to 90s hip hop. They get into a circle and start having dance battles. Hip hop clubs that I go to that are more Black and Hispanic, when the music comes on you just see bumping and grinding and sex this. We, the dominants of hip hop, don’t respect it. We claim things are ours, but we don’t know the history of it and don’t want to know it.

TRAYCE: Sometimes we can get resentful towards Whites if they start talking about something out of our history, like they don’t have a right to be talking about it.

ASHANTI: They got a right – especially if they know more than you. Just ‘cause you feel like, oh you’re street, you’re from the hood, doesn’t make being ignorant smart.

TRAYCE: I think sometimes the fear was/is that White people will always try to take over. But the only way the world – our world – will change is if we come together with everybody. We need to know how to analyze the situation and not be afraid to say what needs to be said.

ASHANTI: Then we can truly be the people’s army.

TOM: We’ve got to squeeze out the positive, so there are new perspectives.

Beatles, Stevie Wonder, funk/soul, singer-songwriters, early-mid 90’s hip-hop, Sufjan Stevens, Kayne West, and …… / Movie: Godfather Part II / TV Program: “Lost” / Book: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. / Magazine: The New Yorker / Food: Pizza. The best in the neighborhood is Graziella's at Vanderbilt near Dekalb. / Game: Backgammon / Superhero: The Watchmen and Dark Knight / Article of Clothing: Several pairs of Nike ACG sneakers / Colors: Olive, earth tones

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