Black-owned bookshop provides more than just good books

By: Matthew Fischetti


Darlene Okpo always had the idea of opening up a bookstore in the back of her head since her early 20s, but it wasn’t until she became a teacher that she realized she needed to open a store that focused on Black authors.

“Instead of me trying to fight the system and change the curriculum to include multicultural education, I felt I needed to open up a black-owned bookstore that focused on black authors, writers and books that talk about BIPOC people,” Okpo told the Brooklyn Downtown Star.

Okpo says that the catalyst to open the store stemmed from her own students not feeling connected to the texts they were reading in class. She talked to a booksmart student in her class who was falling behind on a writing assignment, who admitted that she was having trouble connecting to the assigned texts that didn’t feature Black girls like her. After Opko gave her a copy of “Mondays Not Coming” by Tiffany Jackson, other students of color started soliciting recommendations.

Two years later, in May 2020, Okpo opened her 480-square-foot shop on Water Street. Okpo named the store “Adanne” after her mother’s middle name to honor the support she gave Okpo to be herself and pursue her goals.

“When we look at the history of Black-owned bookstores, we went from 300 to around 120. And people don’t know, when it comes to the history, that Black-owned bookstores have been such a staple in the community because of what we experienced in just the United States alone,” Opko said about her decision to focus on BIPOC writers. “It’s not to exclude any other ethnic group. It’s just to say that this is a store where you can get all the knowledge that, for so many years, has been banned.”

While The Strand is one of her favorite bookstores, she didn’t want Adanne to feel overwhelming with the sheer volume of inventory. Or for her customers to feel rushed to simply purchase books and get out. Instead, Okpo opted to keep a smaller inventory and use the rest of the store to create a welcoming environment.

Inside the store, you’ll find couches, floor cushions; Black Panther posters and stickers of James Baldwin; racks for store merch; white shelves that pop off the bright orange and red color themes; and plenty of African-inspired artwork. Definitely not like a Barnes and Noble or even your average hole-in-the-wall bookstore.

“I wanted it to feel like a home. As if you’re walking into your grandmother or your auntie’s or your grandfather’s living room, and you’re just receiving all of this knowledge from books,” Okpo said.

One of the favorite programs that Okpo has held at the store has been the “Black book swaps” – days where people can come into the store and swap out three of their books for others and talk to fellow readers about what they enjoyed or what they didn’t about the books. Okpo has also hosted poetry reading sessions and talks where, usually self-published,  writers can talk about their projects and field questions from readers.

“It’s not about just signing the book. The author will go over why they wrote the book, their purpose and what they want people to take out of it. It’s great because I think when it comes to local bookstores, we want to support local writers because it’s very hard to do – putting out a wonderful body of work and then being able to have a community that supports you,” Okpo said.

Starting this Friday, Adanne will be hosting “sister sessions” where women can come into the store to participate in a meditation session, do some journal writing, and have a topic discussion. She hopes for it to be an outlet for women to discuss what they’re going through and be able to heal from it.

Opko told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that she hopes to expand into a bigger space within the next one to three years and turn the store into a center for writers so that they can do research, attend writing workshops and be a true community space.

In the meantime, Okpo is looking to set up a work-study program to help get high school students job experience. She specifically wants to participate in the mayor’s new program that will help employ 100,000 New York teens over the summer, with tailored programs meant to help at-risk youth.

“That was my original mission, it took time for me to do it because I needed to set the store up and make sure that people understood what Adanne was about. It’s not just a bookstore. It’s definitely a community for people of color, families, friends, activists, and everyone to just come in, learn, share, and contribute to what we need to do in this world.”







Murals honor Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘life after death’

Jumaane Williams speaks at the dedication ceremony for the Biggie Smalls mural (Credit: Public Advocate’s office).

By Daniel Offner


The memory of Brooklyn’s own Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace remains very much alive in Bed-Stuy.

Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, was gunned down at the age of 24 by an unknown assailant on March 9, 1997, following a performance in Los Angeles, Calif. celebrating the upcoming release of his second and final album, “Life After Death.” His murder still remains unsolved.

Shortly after his death, the Brooklyn community came out in record numbers to honor the career of one of the greatest names in hip-hop, with a funeral procession on March 18, 1997. Thousands showed up as more than a dozen stretch limousines made the trip through downtown Brooklyn towards his childhood home, at the corner of Fulton Street and St. James Place.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of this tragic event, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso held a press conference on March 9, to unveil two new murals located at 981 Fulton Street, paying homage to the hip-hop icon.

During the unveiling, Williams also highlighted the need for prevention against gun violence in the city.

“Biggie lost his life to gun violence,” Williams said on Twitter. “A quarter century later, we still continue the fight to end that epidemic.” According to data provided by the NYPD, the crime rate in New York has risen by 58.7 percent in February compared to the same time last year.

BP Antonio Reynoso and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams pose with muralists.

The artwork consists of two murals, one depicting Wallace as a child, and the other presenting a colorful depiction of Biggie dressed in his signature coogie sweater. The murals were painted by street artists Eli Salome-Diaz, Carlo Niece, and Benny Guerra, in less than a week in order to have them done in time for the unveiling.

Leroy McCarthy, who led the petition to officially co-name the intersection of Fulton and St. James in honor of Biggie, was also in attendance for the unveiling along with Lil Cease, a former member of the group, Junior M.A.F.I.A.

The new murals are just some of many works of art decorating the storefronts surrounding the corner where The Notorious B.I.G. once resided. Located on the corner is a profile of Biggie Smalls painted by Vincent Ballentine in 1999. There are numerous other works that can be seen along the block, including an enormous mural dubbed “Commandate Biggie,” located at the intersection with Lafayette Ave.

Fort Greene open street meeting gets heated

By Matthew Fischetti


The open street on Willoughby Avenue hasn’t made everyone happy.

At the community meeting about the project, hosted by Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and members of the Department of Transportation (DOT), critics of the program constantly interrupted, shouted at speakers and derailed the conversation multiple times.

The open street program was introduced during the pandemic as a safe social distancing measure. In May 2021, New York City passed legislation to make some of the open streets extend permanently. Willoughby Avenue isn’t a “full open street” but a variation known as a limited local access street – which allows limited vehicle usage for uses such as parking and local deliveries. Full closure lanes don’t allow for cars, besides a 15-foot emergency lane reserved for emergency vehicle use. Willoughby Avenue is also a street that is open 24 hours a day.

The Fort Greene open street recently made headlines recently for being temporarily closed and then promptly restored within the span of a few hours. Mayor Adams didn’t deny that the call to close the street came from someone in his office before taking action to correct the issue, as Gothamist has reported.

Councilwoman Hudson’s office conducted a survey via Google forms for the open street that had over 400 respondents. The results of the survey showed that 85 percent of respondents expressed full or partial support for the open street. People who didn’t support the plan expressed concern about traffic, emergency vehicle access and accessibility for elderly and disable people.

Throughout the meeting, opponents of the program complained about not knowing about the survey. Staff from Councilwoman Hudson’s office offered notecards to members of the audience in order to take their concerns as a remedy.

“This meeting should have been held two years ago when the plan started,” said Renee Collymore, a candidate for State Committee in the 57th district, who was in attendance that night. “I hope the community can come together to resolve what was unresolved tonight.”

Councilwoman Hudson noted that she is currently drafting a bill that would require community notification of changes to the open street program but did not elaborate on the specifics of how such a program would work.

Kyle Gorman, a senior project manager at the DOT, also highlighted the department conducted a community feedback survey in Summer 2021 that had over 1300 respondents and a 90 percent approval rate. Gorman also said that a post-implementation survey will be conducted this month and a presentation will be held at the next Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting.

Janis Russel, a local community member and car owner, says that she partially supports the open street program but doesn’t understand why they are open 24 hours a day.

“My opinion is that the open streets weren’t really figured out completely at the time. Because at the meeting, certain questions were asked, and they said ‘well, we’ll get back to you we’re doing a study’ or ‘we’re coming out with these numbers.’ So it just seems like some of that should have been done upfront,” Russel said.

Kevin McGhee, a resident of Clinton Hill who is involved with the Clinton Hill Safe Streets campaign, told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that while the opponents of the program interrupted the discussion it was understandable.

“This kind of venue is always tough, because the people that tend to show up are here, because they’re passionate. Sometimes that passion comes in the form of anger. But I think that you have to really listen to what people are saying, but also try to understand where they’re coming from. Ultimately, every person in this room cares about the well being of their community, they want a better quality of life, we just have different ideas about how to get there,” McGhee said.

McGhee also added that critics brought up a solid point about accessibility issues for the street and that he would like to see the DOT address that in future plans. He also noted that there is still work to be done on Willoughby Avenue and that he would like to see protected bike lanes and residential loading zones in order to counter double parking.

When asked about the common complaint about lack of community input, McGhee had his doubts.

CM Hudson awaits community input on the Fort Greene open street.

“I mean, community input, what does that mean? Does that mean in a public forum like this, where people show up and they yell over everybody that tries to speak in favor?” McGhee said.  “I don’t think that you necessarily just let the loudest, angriest voices dictate what happens.”


BK — the progressive way

CM Shahana Hanif has been named one of the co-chairs of the progressive caucus (Credit CM Hanif’s office).

By Matthew Fischetti


New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler and Councilwoman Shahana Hanif aren’t cut from the same cloth.

Restler got his start with reform-oriented politics by co-founding the New Kings Democrats – a group that helps elected transparency-oriented leaders. Then he beat the Brooklyn machine in an unusually high profile race for District Leader before working for the De Blasio administration.

Hanif served as director for community engagement and organizing for then-Councilman Brad Lander’s office. But that’s exactly why they think they’ll be good co-chairs of the New York City council progressive caucus.

“I come from a more leftist, Democratic Socialist tenant organizing background, while also having navigated leading participatory budgeting and community engagement in my predecessor, Brad Lander’s office. And then he worked for the de Blasio administration. So we’ve got really two diverse track records, which I think really allows for a blossoming relationship and partnership,” Hanif said.

The New York City caucus was formed in 2009 and has gone through a few different iterations under the previous three different speakers and two mayors it has existed.

“It was a more contentious dynamic between the Progressive Caucus, Speaker Quinn, and Mayor Bloomberg. It was a much closer partnership with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is one of the co-founders and original co-chairs of the caucus. The caucus perhaps played a less behind-the-scenes role during the Corey Johnson era,” Restler said.

CM Lincoln Restler has been named as a co-chair of the progressive caucus.

Hanif echoed similar sentiments, describing the previous progressive caucus under Diane Ayala and Ben Kalos as “dim and dead” and that now was a great opportunity to resuscitate the caucus as an “accountability machine” to the mayor.

When the caucus was founded it only had 12 members but this year has over 30 In the most historically diverse class of legislators yet with a high number of progressive-minded legislators. The caucus features some high-profile names like Majority Whip Councilwoman Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Finance Chair Justin Brannan and even Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

This caucus will be a “big tent progressive caucus,” as Restler described it, with a range of ideologies from more DSA styled members to center-left liberal reformers. Both chairs emphasized having robust dialogue and debate in order to ensure different versions of being progressive can be embodied in the work the caucus does going forward.

The progressive caucus is ready to flex its muscles under the more moderate Mayor Adams administration. Before he was even elected, Mayor Adams said that city council members who opposed solitary confinement had no desire to move the city forward but to simply be disruptive. After Mayor Adams released his preliminary budget, which includes a series of budget cuts, progressive members have attended rallies to fight against them.

Restler has emphasized that while challenging the Mayor on issues they disagree with is part of his responsibility as an independently elected representative that going to “nuclear war” with the mayor won’t help anybody. When Hanif was asked about some of the things she envisions being able to work on the Mayor with she paused.

“I guess that’s a tougher question for me,” Hanif said before laughing. “We haven’t necessarily articulated this in the caucus yet but, I think the mayor’s position on food justice in schools is something that I support and want to improve. But at this moment, with the preliminary budget out and seeing that nearly every single agency is seeing a reduction in funding, it is really tough to see where there’s alignment right now.”

Later in her interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star, Hanif qualified her statement by saying she wants room for debate and dialogue with the Mayor, as she wants for internal disagreements within the caucus, but still said the mayor’s policy decisions so far will make that a harder possibility.

In order to really build power and be a true accountability machine against the mayor, Hanif said just having a high membership rate won’t cut it.

“Something that the leadership has been in active conversation around in whether we see value in having quantity or do we see value in really ushering in a caucus that is very deliberate about some working groups that we’ve identified? We really want participation, we want this to be an effective caucus,” Hanif said.

Hanif said that the working groups – covering topics like the budget, communication, policy and bylaws – are a measure to ensure that members are there in just name only but are actively helping the caucus.

Restler will be leading the principles of statement and bylaws group, Hanif is running the communication group, vice-chair Carmen De La Rosa will be in charge of the policy group, and the other vice-chair Jennifer Gutiérrez will be taking the helm on the budget.

Hanif and Restler also said they would consider booting members from the caucus if they don’t participate enough.

Hanif also emphasized that it will take an inside-outside strategy working with unions, outside groups like the Working Families Party and DSA, as well as community activists and organizers to build an adequate coalition that can secure wins.

The legislative agenda has yet to be finalized as the first meeting of the progressive caucus won’t be until April 1. In talks with members, Restler said that treating housing and healthcare as a human right is near the top of priorities for the caucus and that they hope to create “a budget agenda that advances our goals of housing justice, environmental justice, and racial justice.”

Hanif said that the top issues she heard from members surround creating a just budget and divesting money from the police budget.

“My hope is that we can lean into areas of common ground with the speaker and the mayor to successfully advance a robust agenda that delivers for New Yorkers,” Restler said. “We’re independently elected council members and it’s our collective prerogative to represent the values of our districts and we are going to craft an agenda that that does just that.”







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