Once Upon a Home – Kimani Gray Organizing in my Bush

My Brooklyn is a woman’s torso, whose limbs exhaustively reach to the outer boroughs, but whose heart will always beat the rhythms of Church Avenue.

My Brooklyn is under attack. It is eating itself alive. It has a virus, and the cure?

Last night, Jaz said, “the helicopters were so close, I swear the windows would rip from the walls. Tomorrow, there will be a march for Kimani’s death.”

Oh, my Brooklyn!!!

I am born and raised in Brooklyn. Brownsville & East Flatbush. My school was P.S. 135 off Linden Blvd and 48th street. Meyer Levin was my post-private school shift; my parents met on the bus en route to Tilden High. As a child, the Korean grocery stand sold me mango, and my stoop was the house where the kids congregated while the men went to the back for the illegal lotto shop. Across the street, my grandmother greeted the stoop women in from of Mr. Cox’s house, too righteous to cross over. Mr. Burgess, the block president, would every summer have a block cleaning party where we won t-shirts and ran the fire hydrants.  Years later Louima rented our house, sat on that stoop, after his own 70th precinct sodomy.

And now I ask, where are you My Brooklyn?

Attempting to locate my Brooklyn, I opened an organization in 2000 on Raleigh place and Church Avenue, two blocks away from Nostrand, and placed a mural on its side, with faces of women who represented our names: “Sister Outsider”. We gathered there. Exiting the B-35 bus, the sight of the brown door between the fried chicken store and local weed spot, across Raleigh Place where the fumes of laundry exhaust masked the ammonia of aged urine. At Sister Outsider, my Brooklyn became the portal of possibility.

And then, I came out. Then queer organizing merged with Malcolm X Grassroots movement, FIERCE, POC coalitions, Prison Moratorium teach-ins. And these people became my community, for a short time.


FIERCE Photo posted from an Occupy blog – Did the Voice article even notice Outside groups that weren’t white?

I agree with Pinto and Devereaux’s article that a portion of the massive organizing in East Flatbush as synonymous to street theater.  That at the sound of a protesting soul, and with the advent of social networking, that everyone wants a piece. Except that what the Voice seemed to leave out is that the outsiders aren’t only white anarchists. I argue that POC and queer organizers fit into this profile.  I won’t dwell on this fact, but simply acknowledge a phrase that my grandmother said at my step-brother’s funeral: “since I’ve come to this country, I’ve buried 8 of my men from gun violence.  Had I been Polish, this wouldn’t be my course.”  My uncle has been deported, my brothers have been arrested, gone insane, harassed by police, even my own father, who finally got his citizenship was copped.  I’m not saying that the protests shouldn’t happen, or that the FIERCE kids aren’t doing what their strategies have outlined for them.  I’m not making them wrong.

But what of the Church Ave Merchants Block Association? What of Sesame Flyers? Caribbean Women’s Health Center? and all of the other East Flatbush organizing groups that have made this small Caribbean and immigrant community thrive? How has the divide allowed for Occupy-folks to walk our streets when the folks of the Bush have always (had to) organize themselves? The Labor Day Parade, the largest of NYC is proof that we are here, have phone trees, and although aren’t in the business of getting arrested then deported, can speak for ourselves.  The 46 young people who have been arrested, I can only hope they are from the non-profit organizations that have made this scene viral, and not the children of immigrant parents who don’t need additional notches on their records.  If they are community people, the only good could be a law suit, which, outside allies would serve well in initiating, allowing for money/ resources/ power to flow back into the community.

Voice Article declaring East Flatbush as street theater.

Voice Article declaring East Flatbush as street theater.

torn and tattered.

I’m afraid for my dear first love, East Flatbush. Spring has arrived and we run rampant in our own streets. Summer will be here soon: the sugar cane man will roll out his cart, the women will wear flowing dresses with their locs and sandals and hairy legs to match, church goers will say good mornin’, students will skip to the park after summer school and camp, teens will make out in alley ways, and the police will be waiting.

Where does a place like this, where my love of patties, and “princess” hellos, where we have done well to stay alive, is replaced by national scandal and the 67th precinct making us live on prime time?

I’ve decided to go away, perhaps to New jersey, not so sure. But it hurts my heart to see the seed change. To see the same folks who “organize” wherever and whenever a hot button issue is raised, instead of including community groups, already present, who encapsulate a decades-long struggle against the most corrupt police department since LA. I can’t choose; I can’t be angry, or scared to come home. A listserv ensuring safety will not cure the conception of a newly gentrified community. It begins with police carrels on each major corner. Then lowered property values, changes in management, and soon, the juice man will be replaced with a coffee shop. And that’s when home is gone. Grandmother has already left.  The lotto shop is over.  I will always remember my Brooklyn, though. Before the infiltration of familiar faces from a queer meeting or late night bed stuy party on the streets where I had my first knee scrape, before, when I had a place that was home, and not subject to non-profit organizer full-time staff pollution, my grandmother set residence, and raised three generations, buried eight black men, shot, on a nice block, in Brooklyn. Like all families in this opportunistic ugly country where blackness is still a curse to yield sons, I wish the Grays much success and a happy ending as Kimani joins his ancestors in another plane, perhaps someplace sunny, like that once-upon-a-time place-my Brooklyn.

My Brooklyn is a woman’s torso, whose limbs exhaustively reach to the outer boroughs, but whose heart will always beat the rhythms of a once-upon-a-day, and still remnants remain, Church Avenue.

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