Celebrate Black History Month at the Brooklyn Children Museum’s Black Future Festival

By Kendra J. Bostock | [email protected]

Photo credit Winston Williams / Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum (BCM) will honor Black History Month with a week-long celebration, Black Future Festival: We Da People. Taking place during the DOE Midwinter Recess from February 18 to February 25, the festival is presented in partnership with guest curator Kendra J. Bostock and STooPS.

Black Future Festival is a week of reflection and future-forward fun, inspired by the national celebration of the African Diaspora and Black History Month. Families are invited to visit the Museum for a one-of-a-kind experience to envision a future that learns from the values and lessons of Black past, present, and future. Each day of the festival features a wide-ranging array of exciting programming, including live performances, dance programs, storytelling workshops, cultural experiences, art exploration, and more.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum is proud to present Black Future Festival: We Da People in collaboration with our talented partners, Kendra J. Bostock and STooPS. As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important for our youth to learn about the resilience, triumphs, and contributions of Black individuals throughout history and in their communities today. We hope to inspire young people in envisioning their own futures, as well as work towards a future where these contributions are recognized and celebrated every day,” said Dylan House, Director of Public Programs at Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Black Future Festival: We Da People will pay homage to the role of art-making in the Black-led social movements that have shaped Brooklyn as we know it today. The program’s vibrant and varied workshops will feature dance, storytelling, music, poetry, and visual arts based in Afrocentric values and principles. Select dates feature live dance performances produced by KJB Works and performed by dancer, choreographer, and community organizer Kendra J. Bostock. This multidisciplinary all-ages dance piece will take families on a multisensory journey using everyday items from our lives as portals to Black past, present and Afro-future.

“I am so excited about the partnership between Brooklyn Children’s Museum, myself, and STooPS. Having such an important institution embrace a much younger organization is a great example of a Black Future — giving space and highlighting Black art, voices, and community,” said Kendra J. Bostock, Founder/Director of STooPS and choreographer of KJB Works’ Portals: Doors to the Black Past and Future performances.

“When I think about the Black Future, I imagine a time where the values, contributions, and lifestyles of Black folks are honored and amplified,” Bostock continued. “As I reflect on Black-led social movements that have paved the way for our present and future to exist, it has not been about overtaking but making space. Carving out liberatory spaces where Africanist principles such as community, self-determination, and collective reliance can be at the forefront. These are concepts that we can all embrace, regardless of race, that will lead us to less oppression. This festival is about sharing the beauty and power of Blackness and cultivating a new generation who can move us towards an Afro-future. A future where Blackness is embraced as the change-making force it has always been.”

Additionally, New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) will be at BCM to showcase an exclusive collection of family-friendly, award-winning short films. These films feature historically underrepresented communities and stories that foster curiosity and empathy.

Daily programs will be replicated twice each day of the festival, in the morning and again in the afternoon (10 am–1 pm and 2 pm–5 pm). Visit www.brooklynkids.org/black-future-festival to view the program schedule for each day.

PROGRAMS

Portals: Doors to the Black Past and Future

This multidisciplinary dance performance looks at everyday items in our lives that serve as portals to the Black past, present, and Afro-future. KJB Works transports us across time and space using her Sankofa process, inspired by the Ghanaian Akan term for “looking back to move forward.” Performed by Kendra J. Bostock, Brittany Grier, J’Nae Simmons, and Kimani Fowlin.

2/24, 2/25 at 11 am–11:45 am and 2:30 pm–3:15 pm

 

Build Your World with Fabric

Did you know there’s a bit of an artist in all of us? Let’s make cultural masks using materials like cowrie shells, yarn, pipe cleaners, tape, raffia, and construction paper. Creative minds are working hands! Led by Ramona Kearns.

2/22 at 11 am– 1:45 pm

2/23 at 12:15 pm–1 pm

 

Remembering and Transforming: Storytelling

Journey with us as we tell stories of the past, present, and future. We will listen to stories of Bed-Stuy and remember ancestors who created a path with their legacy. Together we will bring our stories to life and create movement for the journey ahead. Move to the music and create a collective poem. Led by Wema Ragophala.

2/22 at 12:15 pm – 1 pm

2/25 at 4 pm–4:45 pm

 

Afrofuturistic Comic Covers

Join us in ColorLab to design your own Afrofuturistic comic book cover, inspired by the work of author and illustrator, John Jennings.

Thru 2/25 at 10:30 am–12:30 pm and 2:30 pm–4:30 pm

 

Moving Stories: Dance

A movement experience that includes various dance forms from the African Diaspora (traditional African forms, modern, jazz, Afrobeat). Led by Carmen Carriker.

2/23 at 12:15 pm – 1 pm

 

NYICFF in Your Neighborhood

New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) presents an exclusive collection of family-friendly, award-winning short films. Whether dreaming up the fantastical, like a spider’s goal to capture the moon, or the practical, like a young animator’s future stardom, these shorts are sure to enchant and delight all audiences (but especially our youngest!).

2/20 – 2/23 at 10:30 am – 11:20 am and 3 pm – 3:50 pm

 

Adinkra Portals: Visual Art

Adinkra symbols were created by the Akan people of Ghana. The symbols represent qualities of character and life principles. This workshop is inspired by Lorraine O’Grady’s 1983 “Art Is…” performance, in which parade marchers framed bystanders in gold frames, transforming them into a piece of art to behold. Participants can make a frame from repurposed materials, decorate it with adinkra symbols, and then take a picture with it, framing themselves as a work of art adorned by a collection of powerful symbols. Led by Pia Monique Murray.

2/22 at 4 pm–4:45 pm

 

Connecting to Ancestral Intelligence: Plant Allies For Children

This workshop is an opportunity for children to explore plants as allies through sensed understanding. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about plants that surround them every day and create a winter plant snow globe of their favorite plant ally. Led by Renee K. Smith.

2/23 at 11 am–11:45 am

 

Keep On Moving: Dance

Join KOM3 from the Breaks Kru in his invigorating “Keep On Moving” dance workshop. Geared towards kids, this dynamic experience redefines dance education by infusing Breaking with engaging games and exercise routines. Discover a workshop that not only teaches the art of Breaking but also cultivates a love for movement and a healthy, active lifestyle in a safe and inclusive environment. Led by KOM3.

2/22 at 2:30 pm–3:15 pm

2/23 at 4 pm–4:45 pm

 

Lyrical Liberation: Music/Poetry

Ella Baker said: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest!” Take a music and poetry journey as we sing and create music together. Led by PitsiRa Ragophala.

2/24 and 2/25 at 4 pm–4:45 pm

Black Land Ownership Seeks Support

By Melissa Hunter Gurney | [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The following is a write-up that was solicited from a co-founder of the organization, Black Land Ownership, after receiving a press release about a current fundraising initiative:

In a little storefront, on an non-commercial block in Greenpoint, there is a community art space that’s been providing a stage for independent artists and marginalized communities to share their music, their poetry, their thoughts, and their movement since 2015. Most people have no idea that the storefront with the slogans “End Racism” and “Love Thy Neighbor” hanging boldly in the window is also a one-room schoolhouse and the Brooklyn office of Black Land Ownership.

Black Land Ownership owns 37 acres of land in Otsego County, N.Y., fifteen of which is in conservation, where they are building an Educational Eco Hub and Artists’ Residency. They are a grassroots organization put in place to combat the historical, systematic, and institutionalized marginalization experienced by people of African descent. The initiative is a call for change. An investment in the future of Black-owned land and, in turn, Black-owned community and Black-owned capital.

Christopher Banks Carr, one of the founders of Black Land Ownership, grew up in Takoma Park, Washington D.C., a predominantly Black-owned neighborhood that, 35 years later, is being met with change. Similar to many neighborhoods in New York City, the people moving in and buying up homes and businesses are no longer Black. His mom, a long-time lawyer at Howard University, bought her house in 1977 when the neighborhood was inhabited by Black professionals like her. Now, 40 years later, their house is in a different neighborhood than she moved into and she continually thinks about consolidation and change. The sale of a house being a family matter, she started talking to her only son Chris about what this process might look like. Chris’s immediate reaction was, “No, we can’t sell.” He said he needed his mom to understand that owning their home was larger than the two of them them and, although there were personal reasons that made him want to keep it, there were also societal ones.

Around the same time, Chris was traveling across the United States to share his art and learn about other places and other communities. In Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, he continually asked himself, “Where are we?”–the “we” being other Black folks. As a musician, he understood that space mattered and that having a safe space to gather with like-minded individuals was important. In Colorado, pulling up tubers on a friend’s farm, he was struck again by the vastness of the land and asked himself, “Who owns all of this?” To his surprise, it was not Black people. He wanted to find solutions—to work together, raise funds, and figure out how to generate revenue sustainably. In 2019, after both he and his partner were diagnosed with rare cancers back-to-back and he was undergoing treatment, everything he wanted to do came into sharp focus. He and Melissa Hunter Gurney, his co-founder, got to work.

It was then that they started researching, fundraising, and learning what it meant to purchase land. Their research, although specific to the Black community, very obviously revealed the need to raise awareness for other marginalized groups—women, trans people, indigenous people, immigrants—with limited resources or capital. Black Land Ownership, as an entity, is inclusive of these groups while simultaneously holding the belief that it is imperative to recognize the outrageous mistreatment and disparity aimed at Black people, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. It is BLO’s belief that people of African descent being landless or displaced is a phenomenon that has occurred anywhere colonialism has happened and is a clear and present human rights issue. Their goal is to make data more attainable and support land projects, educational initiatives and lobbying practices that work to call out the perpetuating narrative that land is a form of wealth relegated to certain groups in this country and beyond.

Their first purchase was a 15-acre conservation plot in Fly Creek, N.Y., completely funded by small grassroots fundraisers. Shortly after that, they purchased 22 acres, clearing out their personal savings. In the past few years, they have purchased 10 acres of wetlands in Mississippi, as well as two micro plots in Arkansas for a community garden and Black Memorial project.

What’s unique about Black Land Ownership is that they are truly community-oriented. They haven’t turned to corporate investors or partners. They have been working on the ground with folks who authentically want to support their specific mission and, although that is a much harder route, it has kept them grounded thus far. That said, they do have continuous fundraising initiatives that they hope will gain visibility and support across the  board:

The Black Land Ownership Conservation Fund (BLOCF), which aims to raise funds in order to buy land while simultaneously ensuring that it cannot be developed and that the wildlife (flora and fauna) can exist unencumbered in perpetuity. Essentially, BLOCF works to promote the condition of the land’s natural state rather than the exploitation that very often comes with land use. All funds received to this end go towards the purchase of various properties that are protected wetlands, wildlife refuges, or conservation easements and cannot be turned into residential, industrial, or major commercial endeavors. The BLOCF purposefully shifts focus from having to extract resources out of the land purchased or running a business off the land purchased to ensuring that the land purchased will remain natural and pristine for generations to come.

There are several other initiatives—the Community Garden & Black Memorial Fund that aims to purchase micro plots across all 50 states, the Black Land Ownership Hiking and Camping Club, which aims to bridge rural and urban communities and create a network of safe, wild lands for marginalized groups to explore. There is also the Innovation, Research & Development Hub, which is their largest fundraising project, and aims to purchase 8-12,000 acres of land, which promotes a collaborative model to explore irrigation systems, natural building methods, forest gardening models, and essentially provides space and resources for Black innovators and creators.

Right now, in order to uplift all of these projects, they have started a GoFundMe to purchase a portable saw mill and turn a sector of their Eco Hub into a Woman & Black-Owned Community Mill for their eco hub. A portable saw mill will allow them to mill their own wood utilizing fallen trees from their properties as well as trees that need to come down in order to nourish forest growth. It allows them to build without toxins, to create unique green spaces for visitors and to offer community use for projects that highlight sustainable action and equitable land practices. The cost of wood has skyrocketed, forcing those who don’t fall within certain wealth brackets to build with unnatural, often toxic materials. They hope to uplift education on what it takes to mill wood, share invaluable tools throughout a community and unite in order to create earthen spaces that support the integration of humanity and nature and uplift their artistic and educational pursuits.

You can follow their work at the following:

Website: blacklandownership.com

Instagram: @Blacklandownership

Youtube: www.youtube.com/@blacklandownership

‘Badass Lady-Folk TV’: Clinton Hill Comedian Hollie Harper

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The following is an excerpt from an episode of the TV talk show Badass Lady-Folk, featuring guest Hollie Harper, a comedian and actress based in Clinton Hill. Hosted by Christine Stoddard and filmed at Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Badass Lady-Folk is a feminist talk show that originated on Radio Free Brooklyn, where it airs on Fridays at 9am. This transcript has been edited and condensed for print purposes:

Badass Lady-Folk talk show

Badass Lady-Folk talk show episode featuring guest Hollie Harper and host Christine Stoddard.

Christine: Hello there, you’re watching or listening to Badass Lady Folk. I’m your host, Christine Stoddard. And this episode, my guest is Hollie Harper. Welcome, Hollie.

Hollie: Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Christine: Yeah, of course. I had the director, who you know, Melanie Goodreaux on the show.

Hollie: Yes, yes.

Christine: She was our first guest.

Hollie: Oh!

Christine: And that, dear listeners, is how Hollie and I met working on this production, [“The White Blacks” at Theater for the New City]. But Hollie is really just a brilliant all-around actress.

Hollie: Thank you.

Christine: Comedian especially.

Hollie: Thank you. I’m silly. You are silly. I say inappropriate things and then I realize that’s my strength.

Christine: I like how everywhere on your branding it’s comedy nerd.

Hollie: Yes.

Christine: So tell me, what is that about? A comedy nerd.

Hollie: Okay. It took me a long time to realize I was a comedy nerd. But, okay, it started when I was like eight or nine, nine years old with Mad Magazine. And I was like,

Christine: R .I .P.

Hollie: Yes. (laughing) And then it was Cracked, you know what I mean? But I felt like, I remember when I saw it the first time I was like, “Is this real?” I was like, “Oh my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Like, and then Cracked was like a shoot off of Mad. I just, I was religious with it. And then any kind of comedy sitcom, any kind of comedy movie. And I love funny songs, I love sketch shows, I love sitcoms, I love funny moments on talk shows. And I realized you’re, you’re a freaking comedy nerd. Like I love stand-up, I love to do funny plays. So, I am just a nerd, a nerd for things that are comedic.

Christine: Yeah, what were some of–besides Mad and besides Cracked–what were some of the early references, some of the sitcoms and movies and whatever else you just adored as a kid?

Hollie: Okay, this is so great: Three’s Company. That stuff was trash, it was trash. But it was high art trash. And I realized, I started getting to the point. where I started keeping a journal. I kept a diary from five to 25. It’s the strangest thing, to go back, I kept a consistent diary for 20 years. From kindergarten until the second year out of theater school.

Christine: Did your parents read it?

Hollie: They’ve read a couple things. I got grounded a few times. I was like, why y’all reading my stuff? Like, what’s wrong with you? But I was not a bad kid. I was just like, damn. (chuckles) Guess I thought I could write here but it was not a safe space. Why are you–just to get intel, but I would keep a diary and I would watch sitcoms and I would start listing different types of jokes and I didn’t realize that I was really just breaking down what comedy was to the point where I’d be watching Three’s Company and I remember realizing when there were double entendres, telling things that meant two things. Like, I remember Jack and Chrissy were, like, moving a couch, moving a mattress in the bedroom, and Janet would be in the living room and they’d be like, “It’s too big !” And she’d be like, “So, it’s too big.”

Christine: Yeah.

Hollie: So that just, yo.

Christine: That show was not for children.

Hollie: It was not.

Christine: But so many people watched it as little kids.

Hollie: Okay, my son is in the sixth grade, right, and let me tell you something, when you have kids, you get these crazy flashbacks of things you did when you see them at that age you long forgot. So my son had a science project (and I went through this with my 16-year-old, too). I went through this last night. BS they do. It’ll be like 10 o ‘clock at night, they be like. “I got a science project.”

Christine: Oh no.

Hollie: You’re like, what? Look, I got to rush. You got to come up with a hypothesis and like, remember that [three-sided presentation board].

Christine: They’re so big.

Hollie: It was a nightmare. They’re huge, and they still do it. They still do it. You know, just once, I want to do adult science projects with comedians.[When I was a kid], I had some science project. I don’t even know what it was, but I waited. And all of a sudden I was like, “Oh my God, I’m just gonna have to dazzle them with a performance.” And my dad was like, “No, like you need–”

Christine: This is middle or high school?

Hollie: I was 11, in sixth grade. And everyone had to go up and present this project. And I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just came up in front of the class and they’re all just sitting there ‘cause they knew I was a little silly They’re like, “What is this girl gonna do?” And all of a sudden I just said, “Hit the lights,” and I had a friend, he was on the lights, and the lights went out and the teacher was like, “What’s going on?” And the lights came on and it went poof! This big, like, baby powder and then came on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and I started, like, moonwalking and, like, doing this whole dance. And I was just something like, “Oh, the clouds, really, the clouds.” But it was ridiculous. I got, like, an A for presentation and then, like, a D for my report.

Christine: Was the teacher laughing during all that?

Hollie: The teacher was dying. The teacher was like 28 years old and like, “What is happening?” I was like dancing all around, I felt the desk, I was like leaping over the desk…oh my God, it was ridiculous. I changed, I had an outfit and I went on the hallway and I put an outfit on and came back in.

Christine: Wow.

Hollie: They were just like, “Why’d you do all that?” And I was just like, “I had nothing prepared.” And I was like, “I think if I could just razzle -bazzle them, they would just…” And it worked. All of the teachers looked at me for a week. Like, “You’re the kid with the baby powder?” And the janitor’s like, “I had to clean that sh*t out.” Janitor was pissed.

Christine:  Early improv, right?

Hollie: I think back on it, I’m like, “If my son did that now, I’d be so pissed.” I told him that, and he was like, “You didn’t…why didn’t you do your project?” I was like, “No, I danced it out and had sound effects. It was ridiculous.”

Christine: So let’s fast forward to theater school. What made you decide to do that? well it was crazy to

Hollie: When I was a little kid, I got into acting in Philly. I was Tinkerbell at a community theater in a suburb of Philadelphia. My  mom  got  remarried and we moved to South  Jersey.  I  had  a  teacher  who  really  hated  me  in  the  sixth  grade.  But  I  tried  out  for  the  play.  and  I  hadn’t  done  any  acting  since  I  left  Philly  when  I  was  nine.  So  I  was  like  11.  And  I  was  like,  I  auditioned  for  this  play,  but  my  mom  had  a  dentist  appointment. She’s  gonna  pick  me  up  and  the  callback  sheet  wasn’t  going  up  to  the  end  of  the  day.  So  I  was  like,  “Mr.  Dixon,  did  I  make  it  in  the  callback?”  And  she  goes,  “No,  and  you  aren’t  very  good.”

Christine: (gasps) No!

Hollie: Yo. She,  like,  crushed  the  acting  me  for  years.

Christine: How  could  she  crush  a  child  like  that?

Hollie: Evil -hearted  woman.

Christine: Yeah,  when  I  hear  people  say,  “Oh,  anyone  can  be  a  teacher,”  that  is  not  true.

Hollie: No,  they  can  pass  the  test, but  you  actually  being…no,  she  was  horrible.  She  hated  me.

Christine: I’m  so  sorry.

Hollie: That’s  okay. It  wasn’t  till  I  was  almost  17  that  I  started  acting  again.  And  then  I  was  at  a  boarding  school  and  this  girl  on my  cheerleading  squad  was  like, “You  know,  my  mom’s  a  director  and  she’s  going  to  be  directing  the  play  here.  Why  don’t  you  just  try  out  for  it?”  And  I  was  like,  “Oh, no.”

Christine: Did you tell  that  friend  about  what  happened  to  you?

Hollie: No,  I  didn’t.

Christine: But  she  sensed.

Hollie: Yeah,  ‘cause  I  was  like,  we  talked  about  movies  all  time.  And  she  was  a  Broadway  actress,  a  child  Broadway  actress  that  was  just  in  our  boarding  school. And  so  I  auditioned  for  the  play.  I  got  the  lead  in  the  play  and  her  mother  and  then  the  new  acting  teacher  at  our  school  were  all “Gung  ho,  Hollie Harper.” They  changed  the  trajectory  of  my  life.  They  taught  me  what  theater school was. And  so  they  found  the  auditions,  they  were  like,  this  is  where  you  need  to  go,  this  is  what  you  need  to  do.  They  helped  me  do  everything.  They  really  changed  the  path  of  my  life.  And  that  director,  I  still  talk  to  her  on  Facebook  at  least  once  a  month.  This  is  like  30  years  later.  I  still  talk  to  her.  It  was  precious. She’s  just  a  really  good  person.

Christine: So  you  went  to  DePaul.

Hollie: Yeah,  I  went  to  DePaul  Theatre  School.

Christine: Okay,  you’re  gonna  talk  sh*t  or  sing  your  praises or was it both?

Hollie: Okay,  it  was  a  horrible  time  in  my  life  and  it  was  a beautiful  time  in  my  life.  I  had  to  really  sort  this  out  in  2020  with  the  racial  reckoning  because  I  saw   something  with  Jon  Baptiste  and  all  these  different  black  actors  and  musicians  were  talking  about  what  it’s  like  to  be  Black  at  music  and  theater  conservatories  and  I  was  like,   I  don’t  think  a  lot  people  really  understand. But  the  actual  instruction  I  got I  think  is  second  to  nothing.  Okay,  ‘cause my  mom  got  remarried, I  got  new  siblings.  They’re  awesome,  but  I  went  from  being  in  Philly,  which  was  like  Brooklyn, very  multicultural,  to  being  like  in  a  Trump  pants  land in  South  Jersey. I was the only  black  kid  in  the  class.   I  remember  being  in  the  first  day  of  school,  like  getting  on  a  school  bus  and  there  were,  you  know,  all  white  kids  and  me,  and  like  nobody  even  wanna  sit  next  to  me.

Christine: Gross.

Hollie: I  dealt  with  a  lot  of  racism  when  I  was  little  and  it was  crazy.  What’s crazy  is  the  fact  that  I  see  these  people  now  and  we’re  adults  and  we’re  like,  “Hey,  how  are  you?”  I  don’t  think  they  really  processed  how  they  affected  a  kid.  Do  you  know  what  I  mean?  I  went  there  and  then  I  went  to  boarding  school.  My  favorite  place  on  earth  is  my  boarding  school.  Like,  when  I  go  back  to  my  boarding  school  now,  I   lay  on  the  grass  and  I  cry.  Like  I  wanna  be  buried  there. Like  I  love  that  place.

Christine: How  many  years  were  you  there?

Hollie:  I  was  there  for  three  years.

Christine: Okay,  wow.

Hollie: I  went  back  and  I  taught  sketch  comedy  this  past  January.  I  love  that  place, they  changed  my  life.  But  it  was  mostly  a  white  space.  And  then  by  the  time  I  got  to  theater  school, there  was  a  part  in  me  that  was  just  burnt  out  from  being  in  white  spaces.  Like,  it  was  funny  how  there  was  like  the  racial  reckoning  in  2020. That  sh*t  happened  for  me  in  1988.  I  was  a  teenager,  that  happened  for  me.  All  of  a  sudden  I  just  started  really  looking  around  at  power  structures,  class, gender,  race,  just  capitalism,  just  being  an  American.  ‘Cause our school was  a  Quaker  boarding  school.  All  you  do  is  talk  about  ideas. And  you  live  there, so  there’s  no  off  button.  You  know  what  I  mean?  And you  either fit  in  or  you  don’t.  You  know  what  I  mean?  If  you’re  like,  I  just  think  America’s  cool,  you’re  not  gonna  fit  in.  You  know  what  I  mean?  They’re  gonna  be  like,  uh,  you  don’t  have  questions?  So  by  the  time I  got  to  theater  school,  racially,  it  was  a  nightmare,  but  for  me,  like  internally,  there  was  nobody  beating  me  down.  There  was  nobody  mean, you  know  what  I  mean?

Watch the full episode at YouTube.com/@badassladyfolk. Find out more about Badass Lady-Folk at BadassLadyFolk.com.

Letter From the Editor – From Feb. 1, 2024 Print Edition

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The following first appeared in the Feb. 1, 2024 print edition: 

Dear readers,

Happy Black History Month! In this issue, I am excited to introduce you to Black comedian Hollie Harper if you do not know her already. I always find value in creating and reading transcripts of video interviews. After all, “watching a video” is not a universal experience. Somebody who is blind or vision impaired has a different frame of reference for a video interview than someone who has a more standard range of vision. Same goes for the deaf and hearing impaired versus those who are not. Reading a transcript allows us to focus on the content of what is being said, though it does of course limit our ability to observe body language or tone of voice. A transcript privileges the text, which has its pluses and minuses.

This issue also features a submitted essay on Black Land Ownership, a community organization in Greenpoint, from Melissa Hunter Gurney, a poet and fiction writer I have known since before I even moved to Brooklyn. I know reading it made me pause and reconsider what land ownership means for Black folks.

Now for some lighter fare: The letter from Jackie Cavalla on our ‘Dispatch’ page honestly surprised me. A couple of weeks ago, when I whipped out a pigeon doodle and brainstormed ways to make pigeon facts a little silly, I was not expecting any kind of response. Sometimes, we writers come up with content that amuses us or follows our personal interests. We fill a page and hope it brightens someone’s day or makes them chuckle. No further reaction required or anticipated. But it just goes to show that any story can inspire a reply–even a written one! With photos!

I cannot mention personal interests without acknowledging poetry. Your emails and social media comments made it very clear that many of you have been loving the Brooklyn Poetry Feature. Just because the New York Times stopped running poems does not mean we have to do the same! Your enthusiasm convinced me to keep the poetry series running just a tad longer, or at least until the submissions run dry. Keep ‘em coming!

Yours in all things BK,

Christine Stoddard

Brooklyn Community Editor

[email protected]

‘Believe the Hype’ Column by Christine Stoddard: Black History Month & African Art Museums

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

It is February, which means it is Black History Month, and in Brooklyn of all places, that must be observed. On the website Brooklyn.org, run by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, bold text declares that the borough is home to the second-largest Black population in the United States. Who’s in first place? Chicago. And despite Atlanta having a higher percentage of Black folks (47.6 vs. 38. 8 percent, per Census.gov), Brooklyn has more Black residents than Atlanta and Detroit combined. Brooklyn’s Black population is more than 730,000 people, which is bigger than the entire population of Washington, D.C. How does this compare to the national percentage of Black people? 13.6 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies as Black. Stats—they’re fascinating!

Bedstuyfly

There’s a clothing shop called Bedstuyfly (styled like that, all as one word) that opened when Ralph Ave. was my C stop. It has a second location that I have come to know on Fulton St., closer to the Kingston-Throop stop on the C. The flashy designs, with bright colors and memorable slogans celebrating Brooklyn and Blackness caught my attention from first glance. The style seems to be Hip-Hop Meets Hipster and, when in doubt there’s the aesthetic choice of “put a pigeon on it” à la Portlandia’s “put a bird on it.” One ball cap that especially stands out bears the words “There should be more Black billionaires.”

Side note: If you are curious about which African-American entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers are billionaires, don’t worry, I found you the answer: Tyler Perry, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Tope Awotona, Alexander Karp, Michael Jordan, Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, David Steward, and Robert F. Smith. Notice that I specified African-American, not African or Black more broadly.

Black Billionaires

One argument for why there are not more Black billionaires is colonialism and its lasting legacy. The notion of “post” in the pop academic term “post-colonialism” is false if disparities based on race and ethnicity, steeped in colonial hierarchies, still exist. The challenge is, how can Black people build wealth if they are still coping with such socio-economic inequity?

Museums’ Reckoning

When you think of colonialism, it’s natural to turn your mind to museums. Right now museums are undergoing a major reckoning. The Biden administration changed the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA), making it so that museums must have consent to display items from Indigenous cultures. This has meant a big upheaval at the American Museum of Natural History, where the admissions of guilt flooded a letter from President Sean Decatur to his museum staff. This letter is publicly available on the AMNH website. In it, the president of the museum admitted that the institution holds remains from five enslaved African-Americans. Their bodies had been extracted from a burial ground in Inwood during a city road construction project in 1903-1904.

In the letter, Decatur writes, “Enslavement was a violent, dehumanizing act; removing these remains from their rightful burial place ensured that the denial of basic human dignity would continue even in death. Identifying a restorative, respectful action in consultation with local communities must be part of our commitment.” You can say that again!

Cultural Museum of African Art

One museum that has piqued my curiosity, though not yet my attendance, is the Cultural Museum of African Art. You will find it in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 1360 Fulton St., 2nd floor. You probably know this shopping complex, which is home to Restoration Plaza, for its Applebee’s and the post office. In 1971, a Brooklynite named Eric Edwards purchased a maternity female statue of Senufo-Bambara origin from Mali; the rest, as they say, was history. I’m skipping a few steps to fast-forward to 2023: Edwards eventually curated more than 3,000 artifacts from all 54 countries of Africa. The museum, which opened in February of last year, houses his collection spanning 4,000 years. The opening was scheduled to coincide with Black History Month. Now you can visit Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm.

Museum of African Art & World Cultures

Being a journalist makes me a naturally inquisitive and observant person, and these qualities have only been strengthened through training and experience. Every time I walk out the door, there is potential for a new discovery. On Bedford Avenue, on the Bed-Stuy/Clinton Hill border, perhaps you, too, have noticed the banner that reads “COMING SOON! Museum of African Art & World Cultures.” You will see it between Madison St. and Putnam Ave.

Now, running errands this past week, the banner caught my eye mainly because I have only recently started sojourning to that area regularly again but also because it was bright white on a gray day. It triggered a memory: a smaller museum called the Bedford Stuyvesant Museum of African Art (BSMAA) from years ago. I had these nagging questions. When was that? Where had this museum been exactly? Was it in this same spot or farther east? The pandemic has blurred my sense of time and place. Besides, I have to be honest: I never stepped inside of that museum.

So I did some Googling. It turns out that the Bedford Stuyvesant Museum of African Art shut down due the pandemic, unsurprisingly, but it did not do so permanently. It has been renamed the Museum of African Art & World Cultures. The address–for when that reopening eventually comes–is 1157 Bedford Ave., Suite 2.

On Oct. 15, 2023, user @path_1873 posted a comment on the museum’s last Instagram post: “Is this museum permanently closed?” So I know I am not the only one who was wondering about it. The Instagram account is called @bedstuymaa, so it has not been updated to reflect the museum’s new name. Maybe that will change. The current account does not have a particularly large following: 474 followers as of Jan. 28, 2024. For comparison, @queensledger, the account for the Queens Ledger, the flagship newspaper of BQE media group, which owns the Brooklyn Star and other hyperlocal titles, has 6.8K followers. (Meanwhile, @brooklynstarweekly has a lowly 525 followers. Trust me, we are working on it! Just started this job.) If you think I’m getting hung up on numbers this column, I really am not. It is important to measure and compare things from time to time. Looking at numbers makes that possible. With the museum’s 474 followers, it may be possible to start fresh without too much hassle.

I have reached out to the Museum of African Art & World Cultures via email and made phone calls to both numbers listed on the website (office and cell) to no avail. Do you have intel? Let me know: [email protected]. I am eager for updates, as I am sure the community is, too.

Oral History Transcript Excerpt with MLK Collaborator Angeline Butler

By Brandon Perdomo | [email protected]

“Angeline Butler” by Brandon Perdomo, Studio Birdhaus, 2023

The following excerpt is from a previously unpublished Oral History interview with Professor Angline Butler, an educator, musical performer, actor, playwright, and Civil Rights activist. Butler was an original organizer for the Nashville Sit-Ins, the Freedom Rides, and the March on Washington. Angeline was also a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), and currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Brandon Perdomo, Interviewer [Brooklyn]

Angeline Butler, Narrator [Manhattan]

Transcription by Mx. Sugar Mamasota

Produced by Studio Birdhaus

Interview conducted via ZOOM

November 20, 2020

“Jackie Robinson was my mentor, when I first went to New York. Because of what I had done in Miami — I had gone to jail—back in the—summer of 1960, in ‘round July, 1960. And Jackie Robinson came down there and he—more or less, was responsible for the verdict that they gave us, which was “ejection of undesirable guests”, which was a mandatory sentence of six months in jail, for 13 of us, who had gotten arrested at Shell’s City in Miami. But we went down there to desegregate Miami, through the Congress on Racial Equality and James Farmer was the person who was head of—CORE at that time and he was the one that was sponsoring—the CORE Summer Institute. And he invited John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and me—we were the representatives from Nashville, student movement—Priscilla Stephens and Patricia Stephens, and a number of other students from Florida, were the people from Tallahassee, movement—that was a very prominent movement as well—I think it was Florida A&M University.

And so, basically 13 of us got arrested, sitting in a Shell’s City, on the second day that we sat in, and now they charged us with the ejection of undesirable guests, then they put us in the 23rd floor of the Dade County Jail! [laughs] In Miami!

Dade County jail that had a premium view of the oceans, [laughs] and Miami Beach—the whole number. And we’re sleeping in bunk beds up there. And, one day, while we’re waiting, our trial, about 20 days, or so—Jackie Robinson comes to see how we’re doing. And he can’t come into the cell. But we meet him through an octagonal window. And I can’t believe that Jackie Robinson, the person who my father, Reverend Butler, always idolized and we always listened to those Dodger games, is there, coming to see about me. So my friendship with Jackie Robinson begins there.

And after—we’re tried, and Jackie Robinson brought diplomats from different African—consulates, from the UN—the Ghana consulate, the Nigerian consulate. And they sat in our courtroom in African paramount chiefs’ ropes, and they embarrass the hell out of that old judge. And so what they gave us was, one year non-reporting probation, with no adjudication, provided we didn’t get arrested again [laughs], in Florida!

Now, that was okay for Angeline Butler, — Lowery, and for Dorothy Miller [Zellner], who were going to go back to—Nashville, or John Lewis, and— Bernard Lafayette—I’m gonna go back to Nashville and go back to New York and go back from wherever, because we were from all over the country. And wasn’t all right for Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, who were going to go back in the fall and lead the movement, you understand [laughs]—and get arrested again. They had already been in jail. They were in jail for like, I think—49 days, and eventually, they had a fast going on for 30 days. And they finally let ‘em out of jail because they didn’t want the students to starve to death! You know! But that was a sit-ins, you know, in 1960.

But anyway, so, I’m meeting all these prominent people, you know, as a result of me having been a part of that movement. And so, soon as we get out of jail, we didn’t go home! We went to New York, because Jackie had organized a fundraiser. And the fundraiser was to help, you know, legal funding of students who were arrested in the south. And he started by, him and Marian [Bruce] Logan—they were in each other’s house with a group of people. And they started giving $10 each, to a fund—and so now Jackie decided to have a concert, where he—organized it on his lawn, which overlooked the river, there. And it was the first concert that they gave, and his wife, Rachel, made these little red aprons that we had to walk around in—those of us who came up from—Miami CORE—that was Priscilla, Patricia, and myself. And, of course, there were a number of other white students that were there with us. And—we drove up, you know, from the South in cars, which also meant that we had a problem going to the bathroom and this kind of stuff [laughs] you know what I’m saying! Needed places to go on the way up to New York! That’s another story. Anyway [laughs] but the point is, we got to New York, and then Jackie found us a place to stay, through friends. And Priscilla got an apartment in Greenwich Village. And we all stayed in her place. And then—so we up at—his house on the lawn, fundraising with these little red aprons on. And now the artists that are there that day are Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Williams is there. We meet all these—top jazz people that day. You know, we have Paul Desmond up there. Of course, I knew Paul Desmond before, you know, that was one of my mentors too—okay. Through the Civil Rights Movement.”

Read the full interview at www.studiobirdhaus.org on February 1, 2024.

Brandon Perdomo is an artist from Great Kills, Staten Island. His work in public & oral history interviewing as a social practice provokes a reclamation of narrative power, featuring narratives concerning “/testimonyofthebody” through interdisciplinary storytelling, with focus towards interrogations of race, place, and history, and sexuality and gender. Studio Birdhaus is the creative studio of Brandon Perdomo. Contact Perdomo at [email protected] for more info.

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