Monday, December 1, 2008


In Fort Greene we have the ingredients to be Obamaland. By that I mean our extremely economically and racially diverse community has the potential to work well together towards shared local goals. While that’s a lovely thought – it’s also a necessary thought.


Over the last month there have been several shooting incidents in Fort Greene that ended with death and wounded bystanders. The MoCADA Museum ( helped to organize a candle light vigil here in Fort Greene on November 25, which was also the 2nd Anniversary of the Sean Bell shooting. Laurie Cumbo, MoCADA founder/director, introduced the purpose of the vigil with an impassioned letter: (excerpts) “…As drastic budget cuts are targeted specifically at education, the arts and the police force simultaneously, it is imperative that we utilize our individual talents to survive……We as “good people” have allowed the “neighbor” to be taken out of the “hood”…… We the “good people” are guilty for going to town hall meeting after town hall meeting and remaining quiet while the moral fiber of our communities have been eroded……My fear is that the euphoria created by this presidential election will cause people to think that Obama will change the world while we sit back and watch….”


The Brooklyn Young Filmmaker call n’ response to this is Community Filmmaking. We are inviting residents from all parts of the community, from public housing to brownstones to schools, to join our students and the emerging professionals partnering with us, and be part of our next short film project. We will be shooting POINTING FINGERS on the weekend introducing Martin Luther King, Jr’s holiday, January 16th – 18th, at the Shop Talk & Art Gallery here in Fort Greene. Tomorrow I will be posting information about our community Casting Call and interviews for Production Assistants, and how you can apply if you are a Fort Greene resident. From now on, 5 days a week, we will keep you informed on how our Community Filmmaking Project is progressing.


We would do well to take a lesson from the Obama campaign’s strategy of organizing from the bottom up. As a citizen I volunteered several days to help get out the vote with the Obama campaign in Philly. I was in a group that was placed in low-income inner city areas to knock door to door. Our group was every race and age, parent and child, artist, city planner, and bartender. The easy intimacy among all these strangers made it feel like we were an army of well organized neighbors. We talked to residents at their doors, and they shared stories and told us when their neighbors were expected. We took to calling out to people walking across the street from us and they would call back. Magically we trusted that our lives and happiness were interwoven with these strangers.

(Me, second from right, on election night in Mullane's Grill, waiting for the results with
some other Brooklynites after we had gone to Philly that day to help turn out the vote)


The quiet S. Elliott block I live on in Fort Greene has struggling working class folks, upper middle class, college students, artists, newcomers and oldtimers and different races. There are the senior citizens who keep a watch over the block and are carriers of the history, and passing by them are babies in strollers who will become the future. Many neighbors know each other and the block association does an annual street closing and pig roast. Maybe you are fortunate to live on a similar block (though I expect the pig roast is unique). Maybe you strive to support diversity on your block, and also in your workplace or by volunteering with worthy projects. But are you getting to know the diverse people in your own neighborhood beyond your own block?

And how do we talk about a block when we’re talking about the imposing buildings in Fort Greene public housing? There is a lot more diversity of income and background among residents in public housing than people outside often think. But it is a lot harder for residents to come together as a community than in the surrounding areas because of the impersonal physicality of the public housing campus. When I was going door to door in low-income Philly neighborhoods it was to small houses, some lovingly cared for, some almost shack-like. But each house belonged to an individual household. It was their turf and statement. In public housing it’s very hard for residents to see the surrounding area outside their own apartments as an extension of themselves. The people in public housing usually don’t even know the wonderful diversity of their fellow residents, much less the surrounding community.

If Fort Greene is to thrive as a community through this looming local and national financial crisis, we all need to believe we live on the same block, and that our fates and happiness are interwoven. We need everyday kinds of vehicles – like Community Filmmaking – that can bring diverse neighbors together for learning and networking.


Which brings us to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, a new movie, the theme of which completes my message – but that’s Part II and comes tomorrow – along with an announcement about how Fort Greene residents can participate in our Community Filmmaking Project.

1 comment:

Pippa said...

From a different perspective: When I first mentioned to some friends I was going into Fort Greene to the community housing, I got the response of "don't go at night, dont go by yourself, dont carry any valuebles on you etc etc..."
I am originally from South Africa, so these comments are not new to me. Neither is communtiy housing. Back home, I had been to community housing only once. It was rather frightening, with rubish everywhere, broken widows, blocked drains, filth everywhere - Not a pleasant experience. However, i am pleased to say my Fort Greene Community housing experience was completely and utterly different. When i first got off the subway at Dekalb Ave - i was rather disorientated as to where i was going (even tho i had a map and direnctions written down!) Eventually i found Myrlte Ave and the community housing. But being me, i went into the wrong community housing blocks and once again was lost. To be fair - the community housing did not look like community housing - they simply looked like a block of flats. It was so nice walking through the community housing - everything was clean, grass cut, no broken windows, benches still intact and no rubish laying around. Amazing! Even more amazing to me was when i approched people in the community housing for directions, they were very kind and happy to help - a very new experince! I felt completely comfortable and safe walking through the community housing - not at all what people outside of Fort Greene had told me. I wish the community housing back home would take a leaf out of Fort Greenes Book, so that they too would be such a pleasure to go to. I do hope people outside Community Housing become aware that these areas are not what they presume them to be. I am so greatful to be apart of BYFC, as they have helped me find what it is i wish to do in life! THANK YOU! P.Wade