Greek Kitchen Opens in Greenpoint

By John Sanchez & Yasin Akdag

New Fast-Casual Mediterranean Restaurant, Greek Kitchen, delivers a healthy alternative on a block lined with fast-food chains

The Brooklyn Star News team visited Greek Kitchen, a new Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant at 912 Manhattan Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Led by partners Lukas Georgiadis and George Konstantaras, Greek Kitchen is a sit-down restaurant that offers fresh Mediterranean cuisine with a modern Greek-themed interior.

Greek Kitchen is passionate about representing Greek culture, and it truly shows in the effort that was put into its interior design. As soon as you step foot inside, the bright blue and white colors and the photos of Greece make you feel as if you have been transported to Greece.

Cooking is a tradition in their families, and many Greek Kitchen recipes were handed down by the yia-yias (grandmas) in the family.

With over 25 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry, Georgiadis and Konstantaras have built strong relationships with the best food vendors in the country; including Optimo and Mega.

“Sourcing ingredients such as virgin feta cheese, organic honey from Crete, olives, and oregano straight from Greece helps us attain the high quality that our customers deserve“, said Georgiadis.

“There aren’t a ton of fresh and organic food options on this block, so we’re excited to bring a fresh Mediterranean experience to Greenpoint – right next to the G train,” said Konstantaras.

The stars of Greek Kitchen‘s menu are The Gyro and The Souvlaki; loaded with fresh and generous cuts of lamb and chicken, respectively, creamy tzatziki, onion, and crispy french fries.

I loved the tantalizing blend of flavors and textures of The Classic Lamb Gyro, and John indulged in the juicy marinated meats of a Chicken Souvlaki. Each bite was a “symphony of Mediterranean goodness,” John exclaimed.

Definitely don’t sleep on Greek Kitchen’s Whipped Spicy Feta—a creamy blend of tangy feta cheese and fiery spices that packs a punch. We spread it on warm pita bread and it was a uniquely delicious kick to the mouth.

Greenpoint is populated with many European immigrants, especially Polish residents, but as the community continues to grow, Greek Americans and other nationalities have found their way to Brooklyn.

Beyond the food, Greek Kitchen embodies the spirit of community and culture. “It’s not just a place to eat; it’s an immersive cultural experience that invites guests to savor the flavors of Greece while celebrating the diversity of Greenpoint,” said Georgiadis.

Georgiadis and Konstantaras brought on long-time friends, Manny Lazanakis and Jimmy Stathakis, to become partners in Greek Kitchen; and all of the partners add value in unique ways.

With its dedication to quality, flavor, and community, Greek Kitchen is poised to become a beloved neighborhood institution. 

Be sure to visit Greek Kitchen located at 912 Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint for more tasty Greek food!



Angel’s Cafe Announces New “Breakfast Blessing” Card

By Oona Milliken |

Though Angels Cafe in Williamsburg might seem like a regular bagel shop, it has a hidden secret: the cafe donates 40% of its profits to North Brooklyn Angels, a local non-profit that’s dedicated to providing meals to Brooklynites in need. The two North Brooklyn organizations have partnered since Angels Cafe opened its doors to the public in April 2022. Since then, Angels Cafe has committed to various ways of giving back to the community, both through North Brooklyn Angels and providing their own forms of charity.

Now, the cafe is creating a gift card system so that people in the community can give out a free meal to anyone who might be hungry. People can purchase an Angels Cafe gift card to take home and give to someone they know or they can put it in a box to be given out at a North Brooklyn Angels food drive where the card will go out to community members. Ana Maria Camejo, a co-founder of Angels Cafe, said that the program was a pivot from previous food drives at the cafe so that people could pick up a free meal from the cafe whenever they wanted.

The Breakfast Blessing Card box. The card can be given out to anyone that might want a free meal. Photo courtesy: Oona Milliken

“We launched that a month ago, and this is how it works. So online, or in the store, people buy this card. It’s only one price, $9.99,” Camejo said. “I give it to the customer, and I ask, ‘Do you want to keep it for yourself or give it to someone as a gift card? Or do you want to put it in this box?’”

In the month since the program has been launched, that box has accrued more than 61 gift cards that will be handed out by the Brooklyn Angels.

Angels Cafe was started by Francesco Tamburriello and Ana Maria Camejo, partners in the cafe and in life, because the pair wanted to find a way to connect with their neighborhood and give to those in need.

According to Camejo, her husband first started volunteering in the kitchen of North Brooklyn Angels and found himself wanting to get more involved from there. Camejo said the non-profit traditionally only does lunch services, so Camejo and Tamburriello started out by providing North Brooklynites with breakfast. The physical store, Angels Cafe, emerged as a result.

Patrons at the cafe can also “pay it forward” and provide a free meal for another customer who comes along. Camejo said the idea came from an old Italian tradition of paying for a stranger’s coffee. Her husband is from Italy, Camejo is Colombian and Italian, and she said that the pair thought it would be nice to incorporate it into their restaurant, alongside their partnership with the North Brooklyn Angels.

“We say, ‘Why not mix it up the both ideas?’ Instead of just a coffee, why not create a breakfast program that customers can pay for a breakfast and we partner with the North Brooklyn Angels, they are giving to people and they are helping us in the production and logistical aspects,” Camejo said. “Give us like a freewheel to go into communities and give breakfast to people.”

Workers behind the counter of the bagel shop. Photo courtesy: Oona Milliken

Neil Sheehan, the Chairperson and Co-Founder of the North Brooklyn Angels, said he was grateful for the partnership with North Brooklyn Angels and enjoyed seeing young people get involved in helping out their community.

“I think the demographic is important. If you look at some studies of younger people, people are looking for a way to do good, if they could find a way to do good and eat, I think they’re fine spending $15 or an extra $10 to feed someone,” Sheehan said.

The BK Borough Based Jail is Moving Forward, But Where?

Ambiguity of what a post-Rikers NYC will look like complicates new plan

By Oona Milliken |

As many New Yorkers know, Rikers is set to close its doors by Aug. 2027 after former Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to shutter the jail after years of criticism of violence and poor living conditions. In its place, the plan is to construct four smaller borough-based jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens in order to create modern facilities and more humane conditions for incarcerated individuals.

At a meeting in front of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 on Wednesday Oct. 18, the Department of Design and Construction and HOK, the architectural firm designing the building, presented their initial plan for the Brooklyn location before their submission to the Public Design Commission for review.

The jail is set to replace the existing Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. However, with a growing jail population, a looming deadline to shut down the facility and Mayor Eric Adams asking for a “Plan B” to close Rikers, the future of prisoners in New York City is ambiguous.

Though Rikers is set to close in three years and ten months, it is unclear what will happen to those incarcerated at Rikers until the new borough jails are constructed. There were initially expected to be between 3,300 inmates at the four jails, according to the DDC’s website, lower than the 5,559 inmates at the Rikers facility as of 2022, as per the mayor’s annual report. Currently, all jails are expected to be expanded to a total of 4,160 beds across all four facilities according to Council Member Lincoln Restler, a number that still does not account for the discrepancy between beds and inmates.

On Wednesday, the DDC and architectural team outlined a plan that includes green landscaping, design choices that will match the architecture of the surrounding brownstones, soundproofing so that residents do not have to hear the inner goings of the jail as well as transportation for those coming in and out of the facility. Though this is their first time in front of the community board, the DDC hosted one introductory event and two design workshops with the local Brooklyn community in order to address the needs of local residents.

The Department of Design and Construction’s timeline of the Brooklyn Borough Jail facility. Photo courtesy of DDC.

The lead designer for the building, Ken Drucker, the Design Principal and the lead designer for HOK, said the firm was set to collaborate with the community in order to create a humanitarian building that is knitted into the fabric of the Brooklyn community.

“This is a normative building that creates equity and a civic building here in Brooklyn. It is important that we understand that we’re dealing with human needs, we’re dealing with community needs and we’re dealing with the fact that civic buildings create spaces that will be in existence for the next 50 to 100 years,” Drucker said in a meeting.

The main issues raised at the meeting pertained to the impact the jail would have on the surrounding area of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill. Many attendees brought up concerns about adequate parking so as to not clog up the surrounding streets, as well as safe transportation of prisoners to and from the jail. The parking will only accommodate 100 spots, down from 300 parking spaces, which is not enough for all the workers of the jail and does not account for police officers and visitors visiting the location. One community board attendee said that the parking would spill onto the street and congest the area surrounding the jail.

“Just from a neighborhood perspective, and I’ll be quiet after this, but you know [police officers, jail visitors and staff] will park on the street. There’s been promises and promises for the city to provide parking for their agency staff and it’s not happening so it’s become a problem in the neighborhood,” the community member said.

Ian Michaels, Executive Director of Communications and Policy for the DDC, said the DDC is committed to moving forward with the borough-based jail plan and taking steps to improve the living conditions of those incarcerated at Rikers.

“Have you ever been to Rikers? One of the things they do, when you start building jails, is they make sure you go to Rikers to see what you’re trying to improve upon, so I’ve been there a couple of times,” Michaels said. “I know what we don’t want to build because I’ve seen it myself.”

The project in Brooklyn is anticipated to be completed in 2029. In July of this year, the city expanded the number of beds in the Brooklyn jail by about 150, reducing the number of therapeutic beds intended for those with mental health issues. Michaels and Restler both said the jail in Brooklyn, expected to cost around $3 billion, is further along than the other borough-based jails.

Mock-up of what the facade of the jail will look like. Photo courtesy of DDC.

“I think the Brooklyn community has been receptive to the facility, that’s not necessarily the case at every location that we’ve been trying to build,” Michaels said. “We’re actually farther along with this facility than we are with any of the other three.”

Restler, who has been heavily involved in the fight to close Rikers, said he was frustrated by Adams’s failure to take the borough-based jails project seriously. Restler said Adams’ administration has increased arrest, summons and number of incarcerated people, both amongst minors and adults, which would not work under the new system. Adams has recently expressed skepticism about the plan and said it was flawed from the beginning.

“These are policy decisions we can control. We can invest in preventative measures, we can invest in alternatives to incarceration, we can invest in supervised release,” Restler said. “We can invest in justice-involved supportive housing, or we can fill up our jails. Mayor Adams is choosing to do the latter.”

In the CB2 meeting, Kiumars Q. Amiri, the Executive Director of Capital Projects at the Mayor’s Office, in contrast with Restler’s comments, said the city was attempting to reduce the overall prison populace in order to address this discrepancy.

“The goal is to reduce the overall population with more smart policies that would sort of disrupt recidivism patterns, provide more stable programs for folks not to be caught in the system, alternatives to incarceration, electronic monitoring to constitute supervised released programs. There’s a whole host of programs that go hand in hand with this, this building, this borough-based jail program is one bubble of the bigger system,” Amiri said.

Restler said it was imperative to move forward with the borough-based plan despite any challenges. The council member acknowledged that the Brooklyn jail had some hurdles in order to be constructed, including figuring out a lack of parking and the removal of therapeutic beds, but said that Rikers was an unacceptable space for New York’s incarcerated population.

“[Rikers] is a despicable hell hole. It is an embarrassment for every resident of New York that we’ve sent people there to rot on a daily basis. We have, over the last 30 years, during the Giuliani, Bloomberg and De Blasio administrations safely reduced the number of people who are incarcerated in New York City while achieving record-low crime rates. We can continue to drive down crime, improve public safety and reduce incarceration if we have the political will to do it,” Restler said.

After the plan is submitted to the initial Public Design Commission for conceptual review, the plan will undergo further evaluation as well as a preliminary PDC review before it is resubmitted for final review to the PDC in the spring of 2023. The last step before launching construction of the jail will be a community presentation, also in the spring of 2024.

On the Record: Halil Kaya

By Oona Milliken |

Despite the gray weather in Downtown Brooklyn, Halil Kaya was smiling inside the ice cream truck parked outside Albee Square. After selling five strawberry smoothies to a large family and one rainbow sprinkled cone to a mother-daughter duo, Kaya stopped serving and said he loves selling ice cream because of how happy it makes people. 

“I just love to make people happy, you know? To see the kids happy. That’s the best job I want to do,” Kaya said. 

Kaya, whose favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate vanilla twist, said it can sometimes be hard to stay positive in such a hectic area. According to Kaya, Albee Square is bustling with people from all over Brooklyn, and people can be rude and abrasive when he’s working the window. 

“Sometimes people like to give you a hard time about the ice cream, or the prices, but otherwise I like it,” Kaya said. 

Because of this, Kaya said he wanted people to spread positivity, and remind people to stay polite during ice cream rush hours. 

“Just be polite to others with whatever you do. You should just try to make people happy everyday. Yeah, just be polite,” Kaya said. “Share the happiness.”

On the Record: Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni

By Oona Milliken |

Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni in McCarren Park

Taking a deep breath can be a luxury sometimes, according to friends Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni, who met up to spend quality time together and relax in inflatable bean bags at the entrance of McCarren park.

“It’s kind of a friend’s date, we met when we were working, so we were always in spaces of working and being on a schedule so we don’t often get the time to catch up and get to know each other, so when we have those days, it’s really nice,” Musoni said.

The pair met working for a security company at Yankee Stadium, but have since switched to other roles at different companies. Now, their schedules can be conflicting, so they said that they appreciate the time to hangout. According to Zen and Musoni, carving out time for leisure is important. Zen said that it’s rare for her to be able to take some time to slow down her breathing.

“Relaxation to me is a moment to take a deep breath, it’s like being in a situation where you don’t have to take shallow breaths, if that makes sense,” Zen said.

According to Musoni, relaxation can be a way for her to access parts of herself that she does not get to on a regular basis.

“For me, relaxation can be a way to tap into certain parts of yourself that you don’t get to tap into everyday in your routine. I’m personally learning how to just be by myself alone, and relaxation plays a big part of that,” Musoni said.

Brooklyn State of the Borough returns

By Matthew Fischetti

The State of the Borough is back in Kings County.

After a decade of not having one, elected officials and members of the public attended Brooklyn Beep Antonio Reynoso’s first State of the Borough last week at the New York College of Technology.

Maternal Health Care

One of the main focuses of Reynoso’s first term as Borough President has centered around improving the maternal health conditions in Brooklyn. A 2021 report from the city found that a third of all New York City pregnancy deaths occur in Kings County.

“One in every three pregnancy-related deaths in New York City are happening here, in our borough.Right here in Brooklyn, Black women are dying at 9.4 times the rate of their White counterparts because of pregnancy-related complications.It’s one of the greatest inequities, greatest injustices that we’re bearing witness to,” Reynoso said in his speech.

In order to tackle the issue, Reynoso has allocated the entirety of his 2023 funding, which totals $45 million, to funding maternal healthcare improvements across the borough’s three public hospitals. Reynoso also instituted a maternal task force back in April made up of eight black women OBGYNs, mental health workers, doulas and other experts to inform policy. 

The Borough President’s office has also spent $250,000 on a public health messaging campaign this year to connect at-risk residents with a resource guide influenced by the task force’s recommendations. Most recently,  Reynoso was able to help provide 500 free baby boxes that contained baby materials as well as post-partum resources after giving a $100k grant to  

Comprehensive Planning 

One of the other major accomplishments Reynoso highlighted in his speech was the launching of the borough’s comprehensive planning effort. Reynoso criticized the status quo of New York not having one, unlike many major metro areas.

“Yet, despite being the most populous city in the country, New York City is noticeably lacking a plan like this–and instead of planning, we have a piecemeal zoning approval process that we all know isn’t getting the job done,” Reynoso said.

Reynoso emphasized that his comprehensive planning will center around public health and housing outcomes.

“The key to comprehensive planning is to have a clear objective, and our focus is set squarely on the intersection of housing and public health. Because of decades of racist city planning and a long legacy of segregation, our communities of color are clustered in the areas with the poorest housing conditions, the least access to resources, and the worst health outcomes,” Reynoso said.

In his speech, Reynoso also emphasized that building wouldn’t be limited to nabes that have seen development in recent years – like Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg or East New York – but would also focus on areas that have not had rezonings in decades.

“It’s no coincidence that 90 percent of childhood lead poisoning cases involve children of color,or that our neighbors in eastern Brooklyn are dying sooner, with the highest rates of premature mortality in the entire borough,” he added.

Looking forward

Reynoso outlined four major policies for the upcoming year, including: providing permanent houses for nonprofits, increasing Black-owned business in Brownsville, Community Board Reform, and a “solar saving plan”.

In terms of providing permanent homes for nonprofits, Reynoso said the move was so that the organizations could eliminate wasted time on finding facilities or negotiating with landlords, and focus more on providing their services.

“Because listen, the people of Brooklyn can’t keep building a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities when their money is all caught up in just surviving. And that applies just as much to our nonprofits as it does to our low-income tenants,” he said.

Reynoso said in his speech that he would be working with the Central Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation to help spurn new business. Of the first groups selected in the program, a smaller group will be selected to receive free space on underused commercial corridors in Brownsville.

“Black unemployment in New York City stands at 9.7 percent compared to 5.5 percent of their White counterparts. At the neighborhood level, Brownsville alone has an exceptionally high black unemployment rate of 11.2 percent,” Reynoso said in his speech.

Reynoso’s solar plan focuses on providing a “large-scale” central solar plant to help lower-income New Yorkers who cannot take advantage of roof solarization. A 2019 report from the Mayor’s office found that 32 percent of Brooklyn families in 2017 were “utility burdened,” spending more than 6 percent of their income on utilities – prior to recent rate increases. 

The last major policy Reynoso said he looks to work on this year is related to community board reform. Reynoso stated that he wants to reform the unclear responsibilities divided between mayoral agencies and the borough president’s office. The new guidance from the Beep’s office would  Reynoso also emphasized that his office wants to provide greater diversity, in all aspects of the word.

“I’m not just talking race and ethnicity. I’m talking about interests, education, or ability status. Do you drive a car or take public transportation? Do you own a home or are you a renter? Are you a single parent? Are you a NYCHA resident?Nearly one-quarter of Brooklyn is 18 years old or younger, but most applicants and appointees to community boards last year were ages 45-64. So, we’re also talking about age,” he said.

Reynoso also noted that he is specifically looking to place two members between 16 and 18 years old on each of the borough’s 18 community boards. Applications for the community board are open until February 14.



Exclusive: Kellogg’s added to historic registry

Kellogg’s, the famous 24-hour Williamsburg Diner, was added to the Historic Business Preservation Registry on Saturday.

The Historic Business Preservation Registry was created with the goal of providing educational and promotional assistance to businesses that have been located in a neighborhood for over 50 years. The program, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, can receive nominations from local legislators and are decided on a rolling basis.

Elected officials and restaurant workers inside Kellogg’s Diner with the historical designation award.

Since around 1973, Kellogg’s has served Williamsburg residents morning, noon, and night. Despite the pressures the COVID-19 placed on local businesses, the Metropolitan Avenue-based eatery was able to continue serving families during the pandemic.

Navigating a business throughout a pandemic is difficult, but Irene Siderakis was able to pull it off – without any restaurant experience at all.

Before the pandemic, Irene was a stay-at-home mother for her four boys. She inherited the restaurant after her husband passed away unexpectedly in 2019.

“The worst things in life can hate you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t move forward in a positive direction, as long as you believe in yourself,” Siderakis said about what this moment meant to her. “As a woman I want to say that I’m proud of myself. I know I put my heart into it. I put all my strength into it. Just because my husband died there is the excuse to say we can’t. I’ve got four children in this world I’m responsible for. There is no can’t”.

Before her husband passed she didn’t know anything about the business—who the vendors were, how to handle payroll, or the day-to-day responsibilities. Now, she says she feels closer to him, knowing everything he did to help provide a life for her and her kids.

“It is just a fantastic, fantastic testimony to the community that this place holds that Kellogg’s fought through COVID and rose again, and reopened and kept their staff and kept everyone safe,” State Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, who nominated the business for the registry, said while presenting the award. “They closed for two months during COVID, during which the owner became very, very ill, but still made sure that she was feeding the community. And I just think this is a beautiful example of what small businesses can do for our city and our states.

Siderakis has an emotional moment after being presented with the award

The 15 or so patrons got excited by the unexpected announcement, taking out their phones to capture the moment they got to be a part of.

“One of my first memories in about 1950 was that this [referring to her booth] was a caboose you know, like real diners used to be like train cars,” longtime patron Lorraine Franzese Scorsone, 68, said.

And she’s kept the tradition alive for the latest generation, regularly taking her two grandchildren to Kellogg’s.

“Kellogs has always been probably one of the biggest staples of this community,” 13-year-old Dahlia Prettr said. She said that she can’t even remember the first time going as it’s always been a piece of her life.“ So this community, no matter how much it’s changed, it’s always still been like that. Not a close-knit family by any means. But it’s still a family.”

“If you’re born and raised here, you know everything about Kellogg’s. You know how important it is early in the morning or very, very late at night,” South Williamsburg native and Brooklyn Borough President Reynoso said to some laughs. “And I just want to thank you again for being here for 50 years, when no one wanted to be in Williamsburg 30 years ago, you were here 50 years ago, and you guys maintained it and stood strong.”

And while much was made about the history of Kellogg’s on Saturday, Siderakis is even more excited for the future.

Siderakis receives Historical Business Award

Siderakis recently held their first comedy show at the diner the previous week, where Brooklyn Magazine reported over 75 people attended. She’s also been looking at expanding their takeout options, working to supply the food for ghost kitchens. She’s even gotten a request for someone to hold their wedding reception there.

But some things are going to stay the same. The friendly service the staff at Kellogg’s are known for will continue. The menu will be just as long. And, of course, it will stay open 24 hours a day.

“They believed in me, which was the biggest thing for me,” Siderakis said about how none of this would be possible without her staff. ”I didn’t know nothing. But they believed in me. And they stuck by me. And we got it together and we made it happen. And we supported one another with the customers that believed in us. I’m so grateful for everyone that kept coming back.

Brooklyn Debate League raises $1.3M after viral post

Conyers with his debate coach DiCo (Credit: Gabriel Taliaferrow)

By Matthew Fischetti

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This quote is how coach K.M. DiColandrea would begin almost every debate team practice at Frederick Douglass Academy.  He would urge his students to figure out their ‘why’.

At 15, Jonathan Conyers couldn’t answer the question.

Conyers, now 27, has figured out the answer. When he was selected to tell his life story with Humans of New York, he opted to talk about his teacher, nicknamed DiCo, instead. And that’s when over $1.2 million started rolling in.

Through 12 different posts on the account, Conyers shared his life story, overcoming ‘hows’ like drug-addicted parents, getting evicted numerous times, and seeing his friend locked up at 14.

Conyers enrolled in Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem after avoiding charges for breaking into a home in middle school. The principal made him enroll in an extracurricular program. After sitting silently in the back of the debate room, Conyers finally participated when the topic of drug addiction was brought up.

“But one day they were discussing drug addiction, which is a topic I know a lot about,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post. “So I stood up and shared my story. Afterwards Ms. DiCo asked me to stay behind. Mainly she just wanted to make sure I was OK. She was like: ‘Do you need anything?’ But after that, she was like: ‘You should join debate.’”

In hindsight, Conyers wishes he paid more attention to DiColandrea.

“She was white, from Manhattan. She’d gone to Yale. I just assumed she didn’t have any problems,” Dico said in the Humans of New York post.

But that wasn’t the case. DiColandrea revealed to his students that he was in the process of transitioning.

“They waited until I was ready to tell them,” DiColandrea said in an interview, explaining that some students had suspicions when Dico would bring his “friend” to school events. “And then it was just unconditional love.”

“DiCo could have told me he was a dinosaur, and I’d be like: ‘That’s cool. Just stay DiCo,’” Conyers said in the Humans of New York Post.

DiColandrea and Conyers knew the biggest tournament of the year was a real shot when the topic was announced: “Should juvenile offenders be tried as adults?”

While Conyers recalled feeling out of place at the tournament, he found his home on the dais.  Conyers recalled in the post that there was nothing special about his opening speeches, but on cross-examination, he destroyed his opponents asking his predominantly white and affluent opponents whether they should be the person making this argument if they don’t know anyone. 

“Jonathan needs to stick to the facts. His life story gives him an unfair advantage,” Conyers recalled a judge saying, in the Humans of New York post. 

DiColandrea taught all his students to be calm and collected. But that’s when she snapped.

“You will not do this to him. These rich kids have access to every resource. But you’re penalizing Jonathan because his life is f***ed up?” Conyers recalled DiColandrea saying, in the Humans of New York Post.

Ever since that tournament, DiColandrea has been working hard to break down those barriers in debate. A few years later, DiColandrea founded the Brooklyn Debate League – a group that seeks to eliminate the gatekeeping in debate by expanding programs and teams to urban areas.

“But it’s not always just about personal anecdotes, it’s a more fundamental, personal confidence,” DiColandrea said about teaching students a more personal and unconventional debate style. “It’s helping students understand at a really visceral and deep level, that regardless of what neighborhood they live in, or how much money their parents make, or what school they go to, or what color their skin is, or who they’re attracted to, or how they identify. Regardless of any of those identity markers, they belong in a space where the only weapon is words, because their words matter”

“And that’s priceless. Knowing your voice matters,” Conyers said. “Especially as a young Black man, presentation and how you articulate yourself are important.”

And although it’s priceless, it still costs.

DiColandrea started the GoFundMe to cover the $6,000 he personally invested to cover payroll for the small mostly volunteer staff. It was covered in 10 minutes. After two days, it already hit a million. Now over a week later, it has raised over $1.3 million.

“It feels like a mix of the day I got married, all of my birthdays combined, and the day that my student won Harvard,” DiColandrea said about the newfound attention and funds. “It feels like everybody in the world is just reaching out with this abundant outpouring of love and kindness.”

The Brooklyn Debate league operated on a small and scrappy budget, reaching around 250 people on their mailing list and about 100 students coming to tournaments.

“That’s chump change now. We can change our whole mission now,” DiColandrea said with excitement in his voice. DiCo said that he’s looking to reach every person, school and program he can throughout Brooklyn and other urban areas.

“You don’t need to look any further than the New York State Championship that was held two weekends ago, right? There were over 60 schools there. And there were five of them that were public schools in New York City. And three of those were specialized schools. And we are the biggest school district In the country, we have, what, 1.1 million students? They weren’t in those spaces. And they’re not in the speech and debate circuit,” DiColandrea said, explaining the still urgent need for something like Brooklyn Debate League.

While Conyers credits a lot of how he got by in life due to his coach’s help, DiColandrea disagrees.

“I don’t know how to express it. You know, that kind of selflessness is what’s always made him so special; he’s a very humble person,” DiColandrea said. “And he wanted me to have this moment. And man, am I having it?”

Conyers now says he has figured out his why. 

“I learned that giving back and being selfless can change lives. And what he [DiColandrea] did to me has allowed me to help so many people,” Conyers said. He has been on the front lines of COVID working as a respiratory therapist. He also started a home for children who had been orphaned during the pandemic and owns juvenile rehabilitation centers in Virginia to give kids like him the resources and opportunities he didn’t.

For DiColandrea, it’s a wish come true. 

DiColandrea originally gravitated to the quote when he was 16. His high school was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11. In the weeks after, she asked for book recommendations for helping to understand and process her trauma. The teacher recommended Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. 

“As someone who experienced this firsthand, we then had an obligation to speak up about it, to make sure that it wasn’t forgotten to make sure that people understood what happened,” DiColandrea said.

And that became DiColandrea’s reason. Helping his own students to process their trauma and make sure they know that their voice matters.

“We’re talking about racism. We’re talking about, people who are undocumented. We’re talking about people who come from low-income communities. There are traumas that kids are carrying from those communities as well. I  want them to feel empowered to speak up about what is meaningful to them and what is their lived experience. To teach them about what matters and for them to feel empowered to share that on whatever level they want. That might be just in front of a friend or a classmate or it might be on a national stage at the Speech and Debate championship,” DiColandrea said.

“But that voice belongs to them. And that power belongs to them to use it, to speak up about what they think matters.”

Even though Conyers said he never had a good answer to what his “why” was – he always knew a bit of the answer. 

“All I knew was that I wanted to be like Ms. DiCo,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post.

“I just want the world to know that there is so much more to Jonathon Conyers, there’s so much more to DiCo,” Conyers said in an interview. “We pray that we can continue to share our story and continue to share the things we have been through in much more detail, and we hope the world is supportive.”

Active shooter in Sunset Park subways

New York City experienced an active shooter situation early Tuesday morning, when an unidentified male individual began to open fire on the N line subway in Sunset Park.

According to police officials, the individual appeared to be wearing a gas mask when he boarded the train around 8:20 a.m. at the 36th Street Subway station. He then opened a canister of smoke that filled the subway car and began shooting, stricking multiple people inside the car and on the platform. Police describe the shooter as a tall black male, about 5-foot-5, with a heavy build wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and a green construction vest.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, a representative with FDNY indicated that 16 people were injured in the attack – 10 of which were being treated from gunshot wounds. Other patients were injured from smoke inhalation or shrapnel, according to investigators. Five people injured in the fracas were identified as being in critical but stable condition at the time of the press conference. According to officials, none of the individuals injured face life threatening injuries.

“There are currently no known explosive devices on our subway trains and this is not being investigated as an act of terrorism at this time,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said.

Police indicated that no motive has been established for the shooting as of press time. The investigation remains in its preliminary stages and any information may be subject to change.

Photos from the scene, released on social media, showed blood around injured individuals who were receiving medical help on the scene as others tried to escape through the clouded platform.

“Today, we saw New Yorkers in a difficult situation and emergency helping each other,” MTA Chief Janno Lieber said at the press conference, comparing the moment to 9/11. “That’s who New Yorkers are… everyday they’re showing people in the subway, which is our public space, that New Yorkers of all varieties can come together in small spaces and get alone and create something bigger. That’s what we remember in these emergencies, as well as the tragedy.”

“Our community is shaken by this senseless act of violence,” NYC City Councilwoman Alexa Avilés, who represents Sunset Park, said in a tweet. “The investigation is still active at this time. My thoughts and prayers are with all 16 of those injured. At this time we know that 10 are being treated for gunshot wounds and 5 are in critical, but stable condition.”

NYPD is asking for the public’s help with information. If you have any information you can confidentiality call Crimestoppers at 800-577-TIPS.

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.

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